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What is Mindfulness?
Have you ever gone for a walk and suddenly realised you have gone a long way and not noticed anything along the way? Have you driven a car and not realised how far you had travelled? Sometimes we fail to notice and we live ‘mindlessly’ or in ‘auto pilot’. As human beings we are easily distracted and create habits of thinking back on past events or predicting the future. Mindfulness is a gentle way of being present and seeing clearly what is happening in our lives. It offers a way of freeing us from the automatic pilot and unhelpful ways of thinking and responding. Noticing the breath is a way of bringing us to the present moment and sometimes helps us to find some calm and a moment of stillness.
Mindfulness refers to a depth of awareness that is at the very core of our being and the practice of mindfulness supports us in nourishing and cultivating this simple awareness. Introducing mindfulness into daily life supports us in living life with a sense of contentment and clarity, it nourishes the body, mind and emotions. Put simply, it means having moment-to-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, body sensations and the surrounding environment, and is not something we sit down and ‘do’, but actually ‘a way of being’. It is a very simple form of meditation that was little known in the West until recently. While it is central to Buddhist tradition, evidence of mindfulness can be seen in many spiritual traditions. The Angelus bell is a common example of mindfulness practice, we are simply invited to stop and become aware for a moment. Having said that, mindfulness stands alone in the 21st century as an effective secular practice.
Mindfulness in daily life
By living mindfully we can be aware of the present moment and live life more fully. While performing daily tasks we can be unaware of what we do. Research recognises that practicing mindfulness can have a positive effect on well-being of mind, body and spirit. Our minds are sometimes elsewhere. Partly, this is habit, living on ‘automatic pilot’. Developing the habit of being aware allows us to see each moment as a new beginning, a new opportunity. It helps create balance in the mind and frees us from limited thinking. In theory many of us know this, we have read about it again and again, however while theory informs us, we need practise to convince us.
Benefits of Mindfulness
One of the greatest benefits of mindfulness is that it can be used anywhere. Mindfulness meditation is flexible and mobile. One does not need to be experienced in meditation to be mindful. However a regular meditation practice helps to bring mindfulness into daily life. As we develop the habit of practising mindfulness our aptitude for relaxing and letting go grows. Mindfulness is not relaxation, however relaxation can be one of the outcomes of practicing mindfulness.
In modern day living many people repeatedly experience the inappropriate arousal of the ‘Stress Response’ in the body. During the ‘Stress Response’ there are increases in metabolism, heart rate, respiration and blood pressure. If we do not give ourselves an opportunity to release this stress it can build and lead to ill-health. It is widely accepted that inducing deep relaxation counteracts the effects of the ‘Stress’ or ‘Flight or Fight’ response. Mindfulness does not remove daily stresses and strains. However, it can help us to respond with calmness and awareness. Mindfulness Matters offers adults and children simple techniques to experience present moment awareness.
Inner peace is generally obscured by obsessive thinking and doing, but may be uncovered through stillness. Experiencing ‘inner peace’ however, need not require years of training. It need not require sitting for extended periods in meditation, it may be touched in one moment of mindfulness. Dr. Bernie Siegel, esteemed surgeon and author, strongly advocates meditation for his patients. In his book ‘Love, Medicine and Miracles’ he says “I know of no other single activity that by itself can produce such great improvement in the quality of life’. Both Ann and Derval discovered the benefits that mindfulness and relaxation practices provide through their personal experience of recovery from illness.
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit" Aristotle
Elements of the Mindfulness Attitude
Seven elements of the mindfulness attitude required to achieve a mindful state:
1. Non-Judging: taking the role of an impartial observer to whatever your current experience is. This means not making a positive or negative evaluation of what is happening, just simply observing it.
2. Patience: cultivating the understanding that things must develop in their own time.
3. Beginner’s Mind: having the willingness to observe the world as if it was your first time doing so. This creates an openness that is essential to being mindful.
4. Trust: having trust in yourself, your intuition and your abilities.
5. Non-Striving: the state of not doing anything, just simply accepting that things are happening in the moment just as they are supposed to. For people from Western countries this tends to be one of the more difficult components.
6. Acceptance: completely accepting the thoughts, feelings, sensations, and beliefs that you have, and understanding that they are simply those things only.
7. Non-Attachment: avoidance of attaching meaning to thoughts and feelings, or connecting a given thought to a feeling. Instead, let a thought or feeling come in and pass without connecting it to anything, observing them exactly as they are.
John Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living
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