What is mindfulness?
“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally” - Jon Kabat-Zinn.
As you went through your morning routine after getting out of bed today, what percentage of your attention was focused on the task at hand? Perhaps while making breakfast or driving to work, you were planning something else you needed to do or were remembering something from yesterday that you wish you’d done differently? Perhaps your mind was so pre-occupied that you don’t remember what you did this morning or where your attention was.
If this sounds familiar to you, rest assured you’re not alone – most of us spend our day functioning on automatic pilot: our ability to carry out tasks with very little concentration, while our minds are off elsewhere.
Automatic pilot has its uses; it helps us to multi-task – enabling us to drive a car with little mental effort so we can remember the route at the same time. In this way, in the ‘external’ world, automatic pilot is helpful. In the ‘internal’ world, the world that contains our thoughts and feelings, automatic pilot can steer us into difficulty without us knowing it.
Sometimes the mind takes us off on a journey into the past, dredging up memories of perceived failures. In automatic pilot, we may not be aware of what triggered these memories and we may not be fully aware of thought patterns such as self-criticism being triggered in response. Before we know it, we can feel angry or sad and not even know where the feeling came from.
The same applies for when the mind takes us off on a journey into the future; predicting things that could go wrong and leading us to questions our ability to cope. Before we know it, we’re feeling fearful or anxious.
Mindfulness helps us to become aware of when we’re in automatic pilot; aware of thinking habits that lead to unpleasant feelings; aware of habits of behaviour that keep us locked in our suffering.
This awareness is cultivated through meditation: by spending time intentionally paying attention to the present moment and noticing and getting to know our habits of thought and behaviour. With this knowledge, we put ourselves in a position where we can choose how to respond skillfully to our experiences rather than reacting in self-defeating ways.
People who regularly practice mindfulness find that:
- It helps them to change the way they think about and respond to challenging situations - they become less reactive.
- It helps them to feel more accepting and compassionate towards themselves and others.
- It helps them change how they relate to and perceive physical pain.
- It helps them change how they relate to and perceive emotional pain.
- It helps them to have better concentration: they become more focused.
- It helps them to become emotionally resilient.
- It helps them to feel more content in life.
- They experience less colds, flu and other bugs.