Mindfulness is the capacity we all have to direct our attention to what is happening right here, right now, with an attitude of kindness towards ourselves and our experience. This “being with” ourselves is in contrast with more habitual states of mind in which we are often preoccupied with memories, fantasies, worries or planning. Yet, the capacity to be present is innate to each one of us and can be deliberately cultivated, alongside our capacity for kindness. Although we are often unaware of the current of our thinking, it has a profound effect on how we live our lives, as well on our mental and emotional health.
Mindfulness meditation is one highly effective way to train the mind in cultivating this capacity for present moment awareness, allowing us opportunities to pause and attend and respond more creatively to our lives.
Mindfulness is not about having only good feelings. It does not help us to get rid of unwanted feelings, but to actually feel them. That is why it is often said that mindfulness is not for the fainthearted, and that it can be stressful to do an MBSR course! Our usual reaction to uncomfortable or distressing feelings is to push them away and try to get rid of them. With mindfulness we learn to turn towards the difficulties, challenges and pain in our lives, because they are here anyway, with an attitude of allowing and kindness.
This is a gentle process, not a forceful one, and it happens gradually as we build emotional strength and resilience. Resistance and avoidance require a lot of energy and when we learn to soften them a little and actually allow ourselves to be as we are, and our experience to be as it is, we find that we free up a lot of energy which can now go into seeing more clearly, making wiser choices and taking wiser action.
Becoming more relaxed may be a welcome by-product of mindfulness practice, but it is not the aim. As we develop mindfulness we begin to see our lives, our behaviours and relationships more clearly and this is not always easy.
That is why the attitude we deliberately cultivate and bring to the practice is one of kindness, patience and self-compassion. For further reading, a very interesting article appeared on the Huffington Post recently that discussed 11 common misconceptions of Mindfulness Meditation.
Extensive research into 8-week MBSR and/or MBCT courses has shown that developing mindfulness has a significant positive effect on:
Mindfulness Based Approaches have also been used to augment or support the treatment of: addictions, cancer, eating disorders, chronic pain, anxiety, suicide, borderline personality disorder, relationship enhancement in couples and many other areas. There are mindfulness-based interventions at all levels of education, for parents, for carers, mindfulness in business, mindful leadership… the list continues to grow exponentially.