Thankfully the word “mindfulness” is becoming what we call, in our culture, a household word. We see it everywhere from books to articles to talks – on YouTube, TED talks and other media channels. Being a pioneer in the “mindfulness movement”, I am overjoyed. Yet I got to wondering: could we use a review, a “short version” of what mindfulness is…and isn’t? Maybe we’ve forgotten the heart and soul of being mindful and could use a reminder.
The following is, what I consider, an overview to understanding mindfulness. While this could be a longer version with examples and expansion, I think it might be useful for you, as readers, to have a handy and helpful synopsis of the key elements of mindfulness.
First of all, mindfulness is being aware of whatever is happening in the present moment – without judging what we observe. Mindfulness is the cultivation of a curiosity about ourselves – being curious about how we view our world and our place in it. Mindfulness invites appreciation of the fullness of each moment that we are given on this earth.
Mindfulness is about paying attention in a particular and very important way: on purpose and in the present moment, with kindness and compassion. This kind of attention nurtures greater awareness, clarity, calm and acceptance of what is happening in this moment – the only moment we have. We learn to be present: focused and aware – accepting of what we discover in ourselves and in others.
Mindfulness is the exact opposite of losing touch with ourselves and falling into an automatic pilot sort of mode, losing contact with what is deepest in ourselves. Mindfulness allows our creativity, learning and growth to flourish. If we’re not alert and careful, “mindlessness” can become our lives. When this happens, we may miss not only what is valuable and precious in our lives, failing to realize the richness and depth of our possibility for growth and transformation in our lifetime.
Mindfulness offers us a simple yet powerful way to bring ourselves back in touch with our own wisdom and aliveness. Mindfulness gives us a way to take charge of the direction and the quality of our lives:-our experience of daily life, our relationships at home and at work, and our connection with the larger world and the planet. We are able to cultivate and nurture our relationship with ourselves as the person we are.
In its simplicity, mindfulness is a practical way to be more in touch with the fullness of life and with your own experience of life. Sometimes we are curious and bring a mindful inquiry into “now”. Mindfulness is gentle, understanding, nurturing, appreciative and loving.
Mindfulness Meditation is the “practice” of building skills for becoming wakeful and calm in the midst of overwhelm and uncertainty – and other emotions and life circumstances. We reconnect with our true selves, becoming more resilient, resourceful and receptive.
Peter Matthiessen, author of The Snow Leopard, defines the practice of meditation quite eloquently:
“The purpose of a meditation practice is not enlightenment; it is to pay attention even at un-extraordinary times, to be of the present, nothing-but-the-present, to bear this mindfulness of now into each event of ordinary life.”
Mindfulness meditation is not about some strange activity that brings a blank mind and or an “out of it” sort of behavior. Rather, meditation is about stopping and being present – bringing awareness and acceptance to the present moment. Meditation is the practice of mindfulness – of being present to “now”, this moment, non-judgmentally. It is simply being yourself, just as you are, and beginning to know something about that person. And it is important to understand that if there IS judgment, we don’t judge the judging – instead, we are invited to accept that it is present and to practice “allowing”, opening to what is here, now.
Meditation is about coming to realize you are on a journey and that journey is your life…as it is unfolding moment by moment. The practice of meditation is an opportunity to embrace this journey, living in gratitude and deep appreciation for all that is in our lives.
Mindfulness practice means that we commit to leaving behind our loyalty to our suffering and open to committing fully in each moment to being present. We don’t meditate to improve ourselves or to get anywhere or achieve certain results. We certainly don’t meditate to ‘make ourselves’ be non-judgmental, calm or relaxed. And we’re not running after something that we think we don’t have. The truth is we have everything we need, just as we are. Mindfulness is about “being” rather than “doing”. We are simply accepting the invitation to immerse ourselves in the present moment with full awareness and to embody, as best we can, a perspective and approach of tranquility, compassion and peace.
Much of my understanding and explanations of mindfulness are inspired by my teacher, Jon Kabat-Zinn, and others from UMass Center for Mindfulness where I spent 8 years becoming certified in MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction). It has been my honor to work in this field with clients, groups and on retreats both teaching mindfulness and learning more about being mindful myself. I hope this review is helpful. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with questions or comments. I welcome your contributions.