What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of bringing our awareness to the present moment, without judgment. We are usually taken up with our thoughts and feelings and reacting to them as we think and feel them. Mindfulness is a way of being in the present and simply observing ourselves. According to Simply Well Blog, mindfulness is a “way of relating to our thoughts, feelings and experiences by cultivating a non-judgmental awareness”. It can decrease both physical and emotional pain and can build our resilience and ability to deal with challenging situations.
Mindfulness.org.au/mindfulness-basics puts it this way: “We come to the here and now by literally coming back to our senses –vision, sound, body feeling especially the breath, smell and taste. We then…[remain] open to whatever arises trying neither to push away the unpleasant nor to grasp at the pleasant. … Because we do not judge either the content or the processes of our mind, we become freer to observe our internal processes more objectively without getting so seduced by them. It is as if we are watching the stream of consciousness rather than swimming in it … Eventually this leads to deeper levels of relaxation and resilience … allowing us to choose different more skillful ways of responding.”
What is mindfulness not?
Mindfulness is not about shutting out unpleasant thoughts and emotions, nor cultivating a positive state of mind by focusing on something positive or using affirmations. Instead, we learn to consider our thoughts as “just thoughts” and gain the ability to experience our emotions without judging them.
Mindfulness is not a practice of relaxation – although it can reduce stress levels and induce relaxation, that is not its primary purpose. Simply not judging our thoughts and not reacting to them, letting them come and go, can reduce our stress levels.
From mindfulness.org.au, “[changing] your experience using visualizations or breath control techniques … is not mindfulness. … Visualizations and breathing exercises can be used along with other techniques like exercise or physical yoga … [and] these practices can also be done mindfully. … However, when these practices are habitually done to avoid unpleasant sensations and maximize pleasant sensations, they are working against the core element of mindfulness, which is here and now non-judgmental awareness or an openhearted curiosity. Avoiding unpleasant sensations and maximizing pleasant sensations is still teaching you to run away from yourself. As long as you do that you can never find an authentic deep inner peace and it won’t help you to be more skillful in your day-to-day interactions and activities.”
How does mindfulness work?
These thoughts from stillmind.com about mindfulness therapy give us a picture of how mindfulness works:
“While most of what we achieve is by ‘doing’, mindfulness achieves its ends by ‘not doing,’ simply by observing. It seems to achieve its success by allowing us to see our thoughts and emotions as just thoughts and emotions not something to rule our lives or believe uncritically. Thoughts like “I must be stupid” are subtle and we generally believe them uncritically. By being mindful of our thoughts we gradually get the idea that they are just thoughts that we are having and there is no need to believe them uncritically. Similarly with a feeling like “anger” we start to realize that it is a feeling that is currently strong within us but no more than that, we currently have anger, but it doesn’t define us and it will pass. We stop identifying with the thoughts and emotions. Our mind ceases to be in the control of strong feelings and thoughts and slowly comes under our own control. … I have thoughts, but I am not my thoughts. I have bodily sensations, but I am not my bodily sensations. I have feelings but I am not my feelings.”
How can I get started practicing mindfulness?
Mindfulness.org.au has many resources about mindfulness, including instructions for how to get started, Multimedia Resources, and Mindfulness in Action techniques. Many of their articles can also be downloaded in PDF format to print out and use. Similarly, stillmind.com.au provides Mindfulness Worksheets.