Mindful Awareness or Mindfulness
Is focusing our attention on what’s actually happening in the moment, without any judgement. This allows us to create a healthy distance from our thoughts and feelings so we can have more control over them. We can then consciously respond to life in more productive ways.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the first teachers of mindfulness in the West, shares: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
Mindfulness is the practice of learning to become more aware, like an awareness training. Of paying more attention to what is happening now, with an acceptance of what is there. When we enhance our awareness, we learn to live our lives more awake. It has been said: mindfulness is moving around the world with our eyes open.
When we accept a situation, we are less likely to reject or deny what’s happening, which can cause much emotional conflict and stress.
With mindful awareness , we’re encouraging ourselves to be somewhere, i.e. here, rather than trying to get anywhere.
It’s important to point out that acceptance of the situation doesn’t mean resignation or approval; this would be too passive, and could make us feel helpless. So, it’s more like where openly acknowledging and allowing what’s happening.
We can then become free to work positively and constructively towards a resolution without feeling resentful or sorry for ourselves.
Most people have heard of living in the moment or being in the present. Have you been told not to dwell on the past or live in/worry about the future? Relax and just go with the flow seems to be a popular cliché these days. With commitment and patience, relating to mindfulness practice with an attitude of care and respect, you can be more in the moment, and find yourself coping better with what life throws at you.
It enables you to handle problems better and feel less stressed because it balances the mind, as well as your emotions. If you stay being controlled by the mind, and therefore not mindful, personal suffering is more likely to continue.
Mindfulness practice reminds us that underneath your troubling emotions and negative thoughts is a deep sense of calm, joy and peace.
Mindfulness is the action of intentionally using the five senses to bring complete attention to our experiences of the present moment, while letting go of judgments and biases.
It allows us to be less reactive to what’s happening in the moment. We grow an internal pause button or mute button that allows us greater control over our reactions to life. We connect to what’s happening rather than our stories and interpretations.
It’s attention control training.
Mindfulness with curiosity, friendliness and kindness.
We open ourselves to the now, just as it is, without trying to hold on to what we like about it or get rid of what we don’t like about it.
Mindful Awareness Activities
Mindful awareness activities, of which there are many, sharpen gradually our five senses – sight, hearing, touch (sensation), taste, smell – heightening our sense of awareness of the world around us. As we practice the mindfulness activities, our ability to perceive what is around us becomes more finely tuned, and so we are less likely to focus and dwell on what we think is there or would like to be there.
Mindfulness of Thoughts: This involves watching or observing the passing flow of our thoughts without becoming lost in the meaning of the thoughts – without becoming engaged in them in any way. Imagining they are like clouds drifting in and out or our head, or that they are words on a movie screen that we are observing from a distance.
This activity can be used on its own and is also essential when practicing any of the other activities, because it is the activity of the mind that takes us away from being mindful of our chosen focus.
Mindfulness of the Breath: This is the most widely used mindfulness activity and involves feeling the ebb and flow of the breath, that is, focusing on the sensations as we breathe in and then out, or on the gaps between each breath.
The Body Scan: A gradual focus on each part of the body in turn, paying close attention to the sensations experienced. For those body areas where it’s difficult to perceive physical feelings, deliberately tensing or wriggling those parts can help. This activity can be most useful for those of us who are learning to manage chronic pain, or stress-related aches and pains.
Mindfulness of Emotions: Being mindful of emotions allows us to pay attention to a particular feeling we’re experiencing, even if it’s very distressing, without being overwhelmed or consumed by it’s emotional charge. Mindfulness of emotions involves focusing on the physical sensations they create in the body. When we experience an emotion, various muscles, the skin and internal organs of the body respond in different ways depending on the emotion felt.
Attending to these physical changes in the body, just observing them curiously and allowing them to be there, may give us the best possible way of resolving emotions.
Mindfulness of an Activity: For example; walking, washing dishes, eating or drinking. Mindful walking involves paying close attention to each step that’s made along the way, not the destination. With mindful eating, each mouthful has the potential of being an explosion of the taste, sight, smell and physical sensation.
The Practice of Mindful Awareness
Mindfulness can be carried out in two ways: formally and informally. With formal mindfulness, we set aside time each day to sit down and practice mindfulness.
Informal mindfulness or mindful living involves pausing briefly throughout the day to be mindful. We can be mindful say of a few breaths, or create an intention to be mindful of an activity we’re doing, like washing the dishes.
Mindfulness practice is about bringing our attention back to the present moment when we notice we’re distracted re-mindfulness. This reorientation back to the present moment is done in a gentle, kind manner, without judgement.
“Mindfulness practice is the repeated effort of bringing the mind back to awareness of the present moment, without judgment and without attachment; it includes, therefore, the repeated effort of letting go of judgments and letting go of attachment to current thoughts, emotions, sensations, activities, events, or life situations.’ Marsha Linehan, 2015.
The Foundations of Mindfulness Practice
(Adapted from Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn)
- Every day we judge the things, people and events that come into our lives. We label some as “good” because they make us feel good for some reason, others we label as “bad” because they make us feel bad. The rest is categorized as “neutral” because we don’t think it has much relevance. When we make these judgement, we are in autopilot and we stop experiencing our lives fully. We recognize this quality of judging when we practice mindfulness, not trying to stop it, but recognize it and turn off the autopilot and experience the moment just as it is.
- Patience demonstrates that we understand and accept that sometimes things unfold in their own time. We cultivate patience towards our minds and bodies when we practice mindfulness. Letting things unfold in their own time.
3. Beginner’s Mind
- Too often we let our thinking and our beliefs about what we ‘know’ stop us from seeing things as they really are.
- Cultivating a mind that is willing to everything as if for the first time.
- Being receptive to new possibilities…not getting stuck in a rut of our own expertise.
- Each moment is unique and contains unique possibilities.
- In practicing mindfulness, we are taking responsibility for developing a basic trust in yourself and your feelings.
- Trusting in your own authority and intuition, even if you make some
- Almost everything we do, we do for a purpose. In meditation, it’s ultimately a non-doing. There is no but to be who you are right now.
- The best way to achieve your own goals is to back off from striving and instead start to really focus on carefully seeing and accepting things as they are, moment by moment. With patience and regular practice, movement towards your goals will take place by itself.
- Seeing things as they actually are in the present, coming to terms with things as they are. When we accept something, we have less suffering because this kind of acceptance is not a resignation or sense of defeat and Seeing things as they actually are in the present, coming to terms with things as they are. When we accept something, we have less suffering because this kind of acceptance is not a resignation or sense of defeat and helplessness. It’s proactive and life-changing. It doesn’t mean we have to abandon our values and morals. Instead we accept the present and look for opportunities for growth rather than only seeing what’s painful and negative. The only thing we can be sure of is that this moment will change, and by focusing on being alive in the present we can practice accepting whatever it is that will emerge in the next moment.
7. Letting Be
- When we are paying attention to our inner experiences, we quickly discover that there are certain thoughts, feelings and sensations that the mind wants to hold on to. In mindfulness, we just let our experience be what it is, and practice observing it moment to moment. Letting go is a way of letting things be.
Research has shown that mindfulness essentially changes the brain by slowly increasing the number of brain cells in certain parts of the brain- called neuro-plasticity .These adaptations can help us regulate emotions and behaviour, improve cognitive flexibility, enhance capacities for planning and problem solving, as well as memory and learning.
Studies have also demonstrated a reduction in the size of the amygdala, which is the seat of our fearful and anxious emotions, so we can experience less stress and anxiety.
How will it benefit me?
- A greater sense of calm and relaxedness.
- Reduced levels of stress, worry and angst.
- Feeling a deep sense of happiness.
- Reduction in levels of anxiety.
- Better sleeping patterns.
- Better control over habits.
- Less emotional turmoil, namely, unsettling highs and lows.
- A deeper knowing, understanding and acceptance of who you are, as well as of others.
- An increased ability for compassion and understanding.
- Actual structural changes in the brain leading to enhanced mental clarity, memory, and creativity.
- A sense of contentment.
- Enhanced relationships.
- Improvements in particular physical complaints including stress, chronic pain, headaches, hypertension.
- Improved motivation.
- Spiritual enhancement
“Mindfulness teachers have known, for over 2000 years, that the more our minds drift off (the less we’re in a state of mindfulness), the unhappier we are. They believe that living more in the moment leads to more happiness. This belief has also been backed up by many scientific studies. In his book “Why Mindfulness is better than Chocolate,” David Michie (2014) describes how the mind that wanders, is an unhappy mind.
When we are mindful, there is a strong sense of feeling present and alive.
We develop a sensitivity to what is actually happening around us rather than creating a story about what’s happening, what should be happening, or what we would like to have happen. We notice the finer details of life more, whilst participating fully in the current moment, just as it is.
Most of the time we live our lives on what’s called ‘automatic pilot; with our eyes closed, asleep rather than awake.’
Then our awareness of ourselves and our surroundings is scattered and truly compromised.
In this state, with little control over what we attend to, we then allow our attention or focus to drift to whatever the mind finds interesting in either a positive or negative way. We seem to be lost in our mind activity, that is, our thoughts, perceptions, attitudes, judgement and beliefs. We treat these mental events as facts, as the real thing, attaching meaning and importance to our thoughts as if they define reality, and who we are.
This, in turn, determines what emotions we feel in a situation, as well as how we behave or what we do.
It’s not surprising then that we feel we have little or no control over our emotions, what decisions we make, or the directions our lives take. Over time, as we practice mindfulness via the process of re-mindfulness, we develop the ability to see that the activity of the mind with its thoughts, attitudes, judgments, perceptions and beliefs is not reality, not facts that must be acted upon. Our thoughts will be seen as a story about the real thing; an interpretation. They don’t define who we are because they come from our conditioning, our society, and our reactions to experiences. Thoughts are also transient in nature, coming and going like birds in the sky or cars on a busy freeway.
As Lineham (1995) states:
“Mindfulness is learning to be in control of your own mind instead of letting your mind be in control of you.”
In this way, you’ll have a choice about what you pay attention to. You’ll find yourself less likely to be dragged involuntarily to wherever or whatever the mind wants you to focus on.
New ways of interacting with the world will then present themselves because you won’t be locked into the unpleasant emotions that seem to dominate your life, or your habitual ways of doing things. A sense of freedom, as well as control will prevail.
There’s no such thing as a failed mindfulness session, there’s only the practice of an ever evolving skill.
As Sharon Salzburg, who was instrumental in bringing loving-kindness mediation to us, says:
“Mindfulness isn’t just about knowing that you’re hearing something, seeing something, or even observing that you’re having a particular feeling. … Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention in a way that creates space for insight.”