Stay present: What defines mindfulness?
THE sixth annual Mindfulness Day is this Sunday, May 5. What is mindfulness? The best way for me to answer is to write about what mindfulness is not!
One thing is certain ... mindfulness is not easy, but it is simple.
It doesn't come naturally, which is why it requires much practice.
It's not about relaxing. Mindfulness just means noticing what's happening, including the things we find difficult.
It doesn't involve listening to panpipes to escape our worries. It isn't a meditation practice. Mindfulness is a practice for the whole of life. It's about finding a different way to respond to experience throughout our day.
It isn't about emptying our minds. Minds produce thoughts, it's what they're built for, and our minds keep on producing them even if we do happen to be meditating. We can become calm and settled by learning to accept our thoughts, make room for them or let them go. It is always good to remind ourselves that thoughts are just that ... thoughts. No need to dwell on them, fight with them, act on them or try to avoid them.
It isn't Buddhist. It is true that mindfulness has its roots in the age of Buddha but no-one owns mindfulness. Mindfulness has evolved and has now become the merging of ancient eastern philosophy and the latest western psychology. The beauty of mindfulness is that it is not a religion at all.
However, all religions could greatly benefit from having a mindful practice.
It isn't a technique. Mindfulness isn't something you do. It's a way of being.
It isn't a way to fix our problems. Mindfulness can help eliminate depression, anxiety, stress or chronic pain, but not by fixing them. We learn to relate in a new way to the things that trouble us, rather than trying to make them go away.
Having a mindful practice is about re-training our minds so that we can cope with whatever comes our way.
It isn't about doing things slowly. Some mindfulness courses include things like eating a raisin slowly. That does help us to notice details that we may otherwise miss. It also highlights the fact that we often rush or go through the motions while thinking about other things. But that doesn't mean that we should do everything slowly. A mindful practice is about doing things on purpose, even if they are sometimes at a fast pace.
It isn't scientific. Research into the effects of mindfulness and its impact on the mind and body are impressive. It is helping to bring mindfulness into the mainstream. Science can measure what mindfulness does, but it can't measure what it is. Measuring mindfulness is a science; practising it is an art that requires presence, awareness, connection and living in the moment.
It isn't a fad. Mindfulness is certainly becoming popular, but it isn't a fad. Our communities are becoming more distracted than ever before. Mindlessness is rampant and there is a growing epidemic of mental suffering. Modern culture seems to be focused on wanting more, getting more and having more. Mindfulness is about being grateful in the moment and is here to stay.
For more, visit mindfullyMAD.org/mindfulness-day/