It’s a term you’ve probably come across before – but what exactly does “Mindfulness” mean, and what are its benefits?
Becoming more mindful in everyday life is about:
- Paying attention, on purpose, and without judgement to what is happening right here, right now.
- Being here, in the present moment.
- Doing one thing at a time with your complete attention.
Why is learning to practice mindfulness such a good idea? Mindfulness can help you to:
- Stop getting stuck in unhelpful thoughts and feelings.
- Know yourself better and make friends with yourself.
- Experience life more fully and freely.
We rarely exist totally in the present moment. Take a minute to think about what a normal moment is like for you. What is going on right now for you? Are you remembering something? Are you planning something? Are you struggling with an uncomfortable feeling? Or are you managing to be right here and now?
We are often caught up in memories from the past, recalling difficult events and feelings. We relive the event, the pain, and the frustration, looking for a solution, but often, we end up re-experiencing it over and over again.
We are sometimes caught up in our plans for the future, worrying about what is going to happen next, or planning something that may happen later. The fact is that if we are always off in the past or the future, we are not fully present in the present moment. We are living on automatic pilot.
Just as we can walk without thinking about what we are doing, and find ourselves walking to the kitchen when we meant to go to the living room, when we live on automatic pilot, we can end up doing things we didn’t mean to do.
When we aren’t paying attention, tired old ways of behaving can slip out of us. We don’t have as much choice about how we behave. We just react.
If you become aware of what is going on in your body, your thoughts, and your feelings from moment to moment, you give yourself more freedom. Rather than reacting to the world, rather than having events and circumstances produce a reaction in you, you can choose the actions that you want to make.
This is what it means to be mindful: to turn off your automatic pilot and drive yourself through your life.
Getting off the Train
Thoughts and feelings can be like trains – trains of thought – that carry us off to destinations we don’t choose or even want to visit. Sometimes we realise that without even noticing, we’ve jumped on a train, and ended up 40 stations along a line of thinking or feeling that we do not want to follow.
Benefits of Mindfulness
Learning the practice of mindfulness will allow you to get off these trains. At first, it will be about learning to get off sooner – you might only go for 20 stations before realising you jumped on the train.
As you progress, you’ll only take the train a few stations before hopping off and coming back to where you want to be. Eventually, if you work at this, you will just watch the trains go by, and you won’t board them at all.
One thing that takes us away from being mindful is our tendency to judge things: “I don’t like this feeling” or “This was better last time.”
We often get stuck in a judgement trap, a feeling that this isn’t what we expected, or wanted, or like, or enjoy, or a feeling that we can’t stand this, we hate this moment, thought or feeling. This can lead us to unhelpful behaviour, like blaming others or ourselves, or feeling anxious and uncomfortable.
The problem with this is that it leads to reactions and automatic behaviours, rather than a calm, careful consideration of what is happening. If we are mindful of what is happening, rather than judgemental, we are free to choose the action that is most sensible and helpful to change unacceptable circumstances, or to try something new.
Mindfulness frees us to bring an interested and friendly awareness to each moment and situation; we are freed from judgement, and the need to fix or change everything.
Mindfulness frees us from the feeling that there is always a goal in every moment. Mindfulness frees us to actually live our lives, as they are, in the present moment. This mindset brings with it wisdom, and sensible action.
- Mindfulness is about living in the here and now. Being present, on purpose, as much is possible.
- Mindfulness frees you from being on automatic pilot, and reacting unnecessarily to things.
- Mindfulness helps you to get off trains of thought and feelings that aren’t helping you lead the life you want to lead.
- Mindfulness is about bringing a non-judgemental attitude to your experience.
- This frees you to see things how they are, and act with more wisdom.
- Mindfulness is a skill that needs to be practiced.
Harris, R (2007). The Happiness Trap: Stop Struggling, Start Living. Australia: Exisle Publishing.
Hayes, SC; and Smith, S (2005). Get Out of your Mind and into Your Life. New Harbinger Publications.
Kabat-Zinn, J (1993; 2008; 2013). Full Catastrophe Living. UK: Little Brown Book Group.