Last updated on April 7th, 2014
I believe that mindfulness comes from ancient Buddhism, was brought to the attention of the Western World by people like Thich Nhat Hanh and Jon Kabat-Zinn and was integrated into the field of psychology.
Mindfulness is what people do when they meditate. But that's just for practice, for training. The whole point of mindfulness is to use it in everyday life.
Mindfulness, acceptance, and letting go
Mindfulness is presence. It's about bringing our attention to what's going on in our body and our mind in the present moment. Mindfulness involves acceptance and letting go: while we are mindful, we do not ask "why me?", we do not whinge ("it's not fair!"), we do not judge ("I'm a horrible mother"), we do not blame ("she's so selfish"), we do not worry about the future ("what if…?"). We just notice what's going on, right here, right now.
We might say to ourselves: "Here's a 'why me?' thought". "I have a knot in my throat." "I feel scared." "There's a need for safety somewhere here." We notice these things, and we let them go in order to keep observing. We don't analyse the thoughts or try to work out solutions. This is not brain-time. It's presence-time.
Why bother with mindfulness?
Because most of the time we are puppets on a string. Someone pulls a string, and we react. Much of the time, we are pulling our own strings, without even knowing it.
Noticing what's going on is the first step to living the way we want to live. I'm talking about the big picture of our lives, but also every horrible, nasty little interaction we have and later regret.
Don't you hate it when you're swept along by your self-talk and emotions, your knee-jerk reactions and your fight-or-flight wiring? I hate how much energy I have to devote afterwards to mending the damage I've done. I hate missing out on what I deeply want, because I'm letting every freak gust of wind blow me off course. Mindfulness is about stepping back for a while, being an observer. Noticing the wind, the setting of the sails, and being aware of the direction I wish to go in. It helps me take the rudder, or accept that right now, the wind is so strong that my course will inevitably change.
Do I have to sit in the lotus position and meditate?
Mindfulness can be a two-second exercise on the fly. A child is screaming at us and before we shout back, we take an instant to be present to what's going on within. To connect with our own anger or fear, and our desire to see our child thrive and for harmony in the family. Those two seconds will save us from being puppets on a string.
Mindfulness is also something we might want to engage in very deliberately, sitting in a comfy chair, with a quiet half hour to spare. Time to listen to ourselves, to give ourselves space. It can bring clarity, greater peace of mind, a sense of purpose.
Personally, I'm not a lotus position person. Not that I'm not capable, mind you. Hell, on a good day I can even ram a foot behind my neck.
I believe that in its pure form, mindfulness is not about working out solutions or making decisions. But it's not pointless navel-gazing either. The idea is that the right action will arise naturally from us having spent time simply observing in the present moment. I don't totally engage with this, though. At some stage, I want to use my brain and think very hard and then I'll be wanting to take action. I value my education, my experience, my abilities for logic and rational thinking. What mindfulness gives me, is trust that my actions will be in line with my values and wishes.
To me, mindfulness is equivalent to the first steps of the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) process: observing (what are the facts, what are my thoughts, what signals are my body giving me), being aware of feelings (anger, fear, pleasure etc) and of needs (need for safety, play etc). Mindfulness seems to stop there, whereas Nonviolent Communication provides another step, which is to make requests of others or of ourselves, in order to pursue a strategy, a decision, a plan of action).
I'm providing you with further resources on the subject of mindfulness, acceptance and letting to here . And of course, this whole website uses mindfulness to help us, as parents of anorexic children, to support them and keep ourselves well.
Over to you: what's your take on mindfulness?