What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a skill that is effective at treating many mental health symptoms and serves as a foundation for greater life fulfillment. Here is a brief introduction to the core ideas.

Have you ever started driving somewhere and arrived at your destination only to realize you don’t remember much about your journey? Have you ever started a meal and looked down to realize that it is nearly gone, and you don’t even remember eating most of it? Most people have! These are common examples of “mindlessness,” or “going on automatic pilot.” In our modern and busy lives we are constantly multi-tasking. It’s easy to lose awareness of the present moment as we struggle to juggle work, home, finances, and other conflicting demands.

As humans we are often “not present” in our own lives. We often fail to notice the good things about our lives, fail to hear what our bodies are telling us, or poison ourselves with toxic self-criticism.

Our minds are wired to wander, habitually examining past events and making attempts to anticipate the future. Becoming more aware of our thoughts, feelings and sensations in the moment may not sound like an obviously helpful thing to do; however, learning to do this in a way that suspends judgment and self-criticism can have an incredibly positive impact on our lives.

Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to, and seeing clearly whatever is happening in our lives.  The phrase “be here now” may come to mind. Mindfulness will not eliminate life’s pressures, but it can help us respond to them in a calmer manner that benefits our heart, head, and body. It helps us recognize and step away from habitual reactions and judgments – reactions that are emotional artifacts from our culture and our family of origin. Practicing mindfulness allows us to be fully present in our life and work, and improve our quality of life. So much so, that in controlled studies mindfulness practice has been clinically proven to reduce depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, chronic pain, substance abuse, and symptoms of borderline personality disorder. In sum, mindfulness teaches us to be less reactive and more responsive in life.

Mindfulness consists of two major ideas:

  1. “Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
  2. Having an attitude of openness, curiosity, and acceptance to your present experience.

For more information, mindfulness educator and practitioner Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn gives a brief explanation of mindfulness here.

The following video provides a more extensive overview of mindfulness and includes mindfulness exercises.