This is mindfulness.” Thich Nhat Han
Mindful Meditation is a form of meditation designed to develop the skill of paying attention to our inner and outer experiences, with acceptance, patience, and compassion.
“It’s about living your life as if it really mattered, moment by moment by moment by moment”,
says Jon Kabat-Zinn.
We can start by debunking two common myths: Mindfulness is NOT thinking really hard about something, which sounds stressful. And meditation is NOT about shutting down the mind like an off switch, which sounds boring.
Both practices are life skills that give you the tools to access inner peace. Both rely on the ability to be focused entirely on the present moment. We can’t experience peace when we regret the past or worry about the future. Both practices offer a way to increase happiness and decrease stress and pain.
Mindfulness is both a general awareness of the world and a formal meditation practice. Meditation and mindfulness overlap in Mindful Meditation, which is one of the most popular types of meditation.
What does mindfulness mean?
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.
Mindfulness is a "directed-focus" style of meditation, in which you're focusing on or counting your breath, doing a walking meditation, a guided visualization, or focusing on a flame or mantra. Any time you have a focal point, directing your mind in a particular direction is mindfulness. It is the art of bringing your awareness into the present moment.
Mindfulness is a quality which we already have, but, have not been advised that we have it. Mindfulness is the awareness that is not thinking, but which is aware that we are thinking. We can also be aware of other ways we experience the sensory world, i.e., seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, feeling through the body.
It seems natural for our minds to wander frequently. We are often lost in daydreams about the past or the future. Most of these mental distractions aren’t very useful and quite often produce stress, anxiety, fear, worry, and all sorts of emotional suffering. Regular daily practice of Mindful Meditation develops our ability to pay attention to our immediate experience – The Now – helping us to overcome pre-occupations so that we can clearly see what is happening in our experience of the present moment.
“Mindfulness is non-judgmental, open-hearted, friendly, and inviting of whatever arises in awareness. By intentionally practicing mindfulness, deliberately paying more careful moment-to-moment attention, we can live more fully and less on ‘automatic pilot,’ thus, being more present in our own lives.
Paying attention "on purpose"
By definition, “mindfulness” refers to the informal practice of present moment awareness that can be applied to any waking situation. It’s a way of being actively aware of what you’re doing while you’re doing it. Try focusing completely on the full experience of a usually “mindless” chore such as washing dishes. Be aware of the temperature of the water and how it makes your skin feel, along with the texture and smell of the soap. Engage all five senses and see if you are actually more relaxed and less stressed when it is all finished.
In his book Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn says that “When unawareness dominates the mind, all our decisions and actions are affected.” How often have you walked or driven somewhere, only to wonder how you got there because your mind went on autopilot, checking into the past or the future, both of which you have no control over? In fact, most of the things we do throughout the day are done without full awareness: eating meals without fully tasting the food, showering without noticing the feeling of the water. How many sunsets and smiles have you missed because you felt compelled to check your phone? Society’s obsession with multitasking often leads us to do too much at once, without focusing fully on each stage of the experience.
Take the example of eating.
When we’re eating mindlessly, we may in theory be aware of what we’re doing, but we’re probably thinking about a hundred and one other things at the same time, and we may also be watching TV, talking, or reading — or even all three! So a very small part of our awareness is absorbed with eating, and we may be barely aware of the physical sensations and even less aware of our thoughts and emotions.
Try these exercises:
Raisin exercise: Slowly use all of your senses, to observe a raisin in great detail, from the way it feels in your hand to the way its taste bursts on your tongue. This exercise is intended to help you focus on the present moment, and can be tried with different foods.
Walking meditation: Focus on the movement of your body as you take step after step, your feet touching and leaving the ground—an everyday activity we usually take for granted. This exercise is often practiced walking slowly back and forth along a path 10 paces long, though it can be practiced along most any path.
Shower meditation: When you take a shower, visualize washing away your stress and anxiety. Concentrate on the feel of the water on your skin. Envision the power of the water washing away your negative thoughts. Feel sadness, regret, anger, and depression washing off you. Let it all go down the drain. Feel the lightness. Enjoy the clarity of your mind. Free your mind of all that does not serve you.
Being fully aware and engaged in an activity can make a situation less stressful because we are not reacting habitually. When practicing mindfulness, the mind isn’t guessing at the future or creating a mountain out of what is actually a small hill. If we can let go of our controlling ways—consciously observing what is, without labeling it or placing an opinion on it--
we can release the stress of expectations, regrets, and fears in order to fully accept each moment and all that it offers.
Be aware as you cook dinner, to background noise of television, children playing, or sounds from outside. Your mind and emotions might tell you they’re intrusive or disturbing. That’s okay! All you have to do is be aware… notice it… and keep going. This is Mindfulness!
The wandering mind is very strong, even though our reveries are often not pleasant and sometimes not even true. As Mark Twain so aptly put it, “Some of the worst things in my life never happened.”
“Through mindfulness, we gradually awaken from the movies of our minds.” Joseph Goldstein
Williams, Mark, and Penman, Danny; Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World
Tolle, Ekhart, Power of Now.
Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness.