What is mindfulness?
The most widely used definition comes from Jon Kabat-Zinn, the microbiologist-turned meditation teacher who designed Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), the eight-week mindfulness course, which is favoured by scientists who are interested in studying the effects of meditation.
Kabat-Zinn has defined mindfulness meditation as “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”. By focusing on the breath, the idea is to cultivate attention on the body and mind as it is moment to moment, and so help with pain, both physical and emotional.
“Just so it is clear what I mean when I use the word ‘mindfulness,’ I am using it as a synonym for ‘awareness’ or ‘pure awareness.’
Defining mindfulness is not easy it seems. It’s a bit like defining similarly complex ideas such as ‘intelligence’ and ‘wisdom.’ In line with Kabat-Zinn’s teachings, mindfulness can be regarded as a state of mind, a personality trait, a meditation practice, and a mental health intervention. He intentionally allows for multifaceted complexity so that it can be picked apart and studied in differing combinations such as acceptance, attentiveness, awareness, focus, curiosity, or attitude. (source)
Before you start
My first brush with mindfulness was as a child (though I didn’t know it then).
I mean, look at me!
I even got the colour right! 🙂
As young children we still have this innate capacity to live in the moment, be aware of ourselves and our surroundings. Children can sit and stare at a bee on a flower or at clouds in the sky.
At some point we lose this ‘being in the now’, get overtaken by education and life and nobody teaches us any of it in school.
In our busy times, and especially this year, it seems to come as no surprise that more and more people are looking for something to fix their monkey brain, their stress, their overwhelm, quieten the noise.
So where to start? It’s actually pretty easy. You do not have to travel far or spend much money, because the place to start (the only place really) is with yourself.
And that exactly is the challenge! Because we know how hard it is to start something new (or change/improve something), even if we know it will do us good. Remember the last time you wanted to stop smoking? Or start exercising? Eat less sugar? Complain less? Stop yelling at your kids?
Change is hard. Because we are neurologically wired to fight it, to stay in our comfort zone, to reject upheaval and to choose the path of least resistance.
However, all change starts with awareness.
So, before you start living mindfully and announcing to the world that you will start meditating (accountability is a great motivator!), I recommend that you watch this movie first.
It will give you a great introduction of what mindfulness is, an overview of how unknown and untested the territory still is but also how huge the results are for those who practice it and that it might not be recommended for everyone.
Then, when you have decided that you will give it a go, know that that is not enough. Trying is not enough. Decide! Get help (coach/accountability)! Join others! Create systems! Like with any new habit, the better you organise it, the more chances you will have of succeeding.
And when you have made that decision, you will find below a lot of resources to help you on your way to a more mindful living.