What is mindfulness?
In its simplest form, Mindfulness is Paying Attention. But it an attentiveness that is present, empty of judgment- with an open heart, with a tender allowing, with loving kindness. It's paying attention to the Moment, whatever it contains, with every neuron and every cell in your body. Let's take a simple example, let's say it's eating a peach. When was the last time you took a bite and were utterly enraptured at the taste, fragrance, texture and overwhelming experience of eating a peach? We slip through our lives almost completely unaware, distracted by our self-recriminations and resentful inner self-talk about the past, or worries about the future, and the moment at hand is lost. There's an old Zen adage that states, "Live each day as though your hair were on fire." Now that's being in the present moment.
There is a finer quality that has been termed "spaciousness" - that allows us to observe and experience without reacting. This helps us detach from our usual knee-jerk reactivity, out of childhood and unconscious conditioning, and begins to soften our relationship with the inner demons and behaviors that seem to have us in their grip. And it cultivates compassion; not only to others, but to ourselves.
The practice of Mindfulness can bring many benefits to your emotional and physical health, as well as to the relationships in your life. It's an amazing tool for stress management and overall wellness, because it can be used at virtually any time and quickly bring lasting results. By developing moment-by-moment awareness, we create the ability to witness our experience and to choose our responses rather than to react automatically to our surroundings. By living mindfully, we can overcome stubborn mental patterns and live more joyfully. In working on my own process and that of others for decades, it's the one piece that I feel has been the most effective in creating lasting change.
Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, reactions, feelings, sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens. It involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future. When we do this, it becomes so much easier to see the roots of our own reactivity and where it comes from in us, and to let it go. The more we can still our mind, the more we return to clarity and wholeness.
Though it has its roots in Buddhist meditation, a secular practice of mindfulness has entered the American mainstream in recent years, in part through the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn and his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, which he launched at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979. Since that time, thousands of studies have documented the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness in general and MBSR in particular, inspiring countless programs to adapt the MBSR model for schools, prisons, hospitals, veterans centers, and beyond.
Individuals who practice mindfulness report that they have an enhanced sense of well-being, an expanded experience of joy in their lives and a more positive relationship with themselves and others.
Try it out: Take a moment, right now, and just breathe deeply. Notice your breath as it slowly inhales, exhales ... try to inhale slowly into your belly, and exhale deeply through your mouth. the feeling in your nostrils. Notice your body, how does it feel? Notice every place that feels tight or constricted, emotionally or physically, and let it go. As thoughts come in, just Notice them, and let them go as well....just go back to the awareness of the Breath. Simply focusing your Attention on the sound and rhythm of your breathing, especially when you're upset or getting lost in emotional thoughts, can bring you back to a place of grounding and centering.
Another simple exercise is to listen to music. Music has tremendous therapeutic benefits, especially if you're listening to a musical piece that has soothing, harmonious sounds. Listening to Bach can actually reduce blood pressure! Listen with headphones, breathe, and become aware of and enter the world of the sounds, allowing them to flow through your entire body. If thoughts arise, simply let them go, and return to your Awareness of the music.