What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a way of being that can create more happines in your life. It is based on the Buddhist tradition dating back to nearly two thousand, five hundred years which focuses on the "vipassna" form of meditation which means "çlear seeing" in Pali, the language of the Buddha. The word "buddha" itself means to be aware or to be awake.
There are many definitions of mindfulness. One popular definition, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn who was pivotal in introducing this concept particularly in North America, is “paying attention in a particular way, in the present moment and nonjudgementally”. It entails focusing your awareness and senses to whatever you are doing in the present and not dwelling on the past or the future. It means living in the moment; not necessarily for the moment.
When you live mindfully, you bring more awareness and happiness to your life. You are able to savour each moment and experience as life unfolds. You no longer live life on automatic pilot on account of habituated responses; you allow yourself more space,both internally and externally, to make positive, directed choices which can result in considerably lowering your stress level.
Mindfulness can also help you to live more responsibly which in essence means making more conscious choices, holding yourself responsible for the consequences of those choices and developing a sense of mutuality in relationships, sharing the process of decision making and working co-operatively with your partner/spouse.
Three aspects of mindfulness
Let us examine in greater detail the three main aspects of mindfulness: paying attention, living in the moment and adopting a non-judgemental attitude. Paying attention means narrowing your field of vision so that you can see clearer and in finer detail. It means being aware of your sensations, feelings and perceptions. You eventually develop a better relationship with these sensations, feelings and perceptions and in turn with yourself and others around you.
Living in the moment means centering oneself in what is happening in the now. When your thoughts are not centred, this can generate stress which can negatively affect your health, your relationships and the overall quality of your life. Your emotional energy can become scattered from the chaos of mindlessness (not paying attention).
Adopting a non-judgemental attitude means to embrace your moment to moment experiences without evaluating these. Jiddu Krishnamurti once remarked that "one of the highest types of intelligence is to observe without evualuation or judgement". An example of this may be to see or experience your world without labelling it right away.
In the Eastern traditions, the breath is viewed as the link between the mind and body. A beginner’s exercise in mindfulness breathing is to sit with your eyes closed, your spine upright and bring attention to your breath as it enters and leaves your nostrils. If your attention wanders, you gently bring it back to the breath which serves to anchor your awareness. In this way, you, often referred to in this context as the witness, can eventually begin to observe and thereby create space between your thoughts, feelings and sensations without necessarily reacting to these. You observe your thoughts without putting emotions to these.
You can use the analogy of a scientist observing wildlife near a river, you being the scientist will just note what is happening such as the animals (your thoughts) coming to drink water. You do not attach emotions, pass judgments or dramatise what is happening. You are leaving the thoughts as they are.Over time, these thoughts, deprived of energy become less and less apparent and eventually subside. This is curative in the sense that it helps you to reduce your stress levels and to be more proactive in every part of your life.
Tigers Above, Tigers Below
The following story illustrates the practice of mindfulness in one's life.
"There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs, and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. SHe also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. THen she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.
Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life, it might be the only strawberry we'll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreicate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life."
The overall effect of mindful living is that you develop increased awareness and with that a greater capacity to enjoy present moments and make conscious, healthier choices in your everyday life. In effect, mindfulness becomes a source of joy. Your behavior is no longer an automatic function of habitual thoughts, perceptions and feelings. Your stress levels decrease as you become more proactive,that is, having more control, and less reactive, that is behaving more in line with your feelings. Your overall level of happiness dramatically improves.
Full Catastrophe Living.1990.Jon Kabat-Zinn
The Mindfulness Breakthrough, 2012, Sarah Silverton
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