What Exactly is Mindfulness Anyway?

What is Mindfulness?

The single most common question I hear everyday.   What is Mindfulness?

What may seem obvious to some is quite a mystery to others. And with so many different perspectives, books and articles on the seemingly amorphous topic, I think it’s a very good question.

“Moment to moment awareness without judgment” is the simplest definition I’ve seen.

“Moment to moment”.
This is one of the biggest secrets to the mindfulness movement.   For many, this may be more familiar when we talk about “being in the moment” a concept Ekart Tolle made famous in his book the, Power of Now.   As with all precepts of Mindfulness, it’s a simple concept to grasp.   Just be in this moment, enjoying the moment as it is.   Easy right? I’m in the moment right now… right?

For most, not so easy.  Over 49% of our waking lives* is spent thinking about something other than what we are doing at the given moment. Ruminating about a past event (ex: “I can’t believe she said that about me”) or anxiety over future event (ex: “geez, I really need to start that project or else…”) and on, and on our wandering minds go.

“I wandering mind is an unhappy mind”, MA Killingsworth one wrote.

And I think that is the key here.   Our first simple task is to bring our attention to the moment we are in. And as you’ll soon find out, it’s not as easy (albeit simple) as it sounds.     Will come back to this in a moment.

Awareness. The next word in the definition is awareness and the ignition to the powerful engine of mindfulness. The Webster definition “ is the ability to perceive, to feel, or to be conscious of events, objects, thoughts, emotions, or sensory patterns” and so if we extrapolate to mindfulness, it means to be aware of your thinking, feeling, and emotions. In the mindfulness world, this is known as Being the Observer.

Observe your thoughts versus being one with those thoughts. In short, you are not your thoughts. They are just items that come across the mind … separate objects if you will.    For example, you may be thinking, “hmm, this blog post isn’t as pithy as Aaron’s past writings, I think I should go check Facebook.” So instead of instantly going to check Facebook or just starting to feel bored.   You’d observe that thought as if you are a third party and say, “interesting, that 1 minute into reading this, and I’m already anxious or bored. I wonder why. Is it my attention span? Is the topic… hmmm….”? And then at least you are observing the thought and aware you are having this actual thought.

Feelings and emotions are even more critical. When you feel something, it’s actually important to recognize that as a sensation versus identifying it as whom you are. For example, you may find that it’s easy for you to get frustrated or angry when waiting. Waiting in traffic, waiting in line at the airport, waiting for someone who’s late.   And you say to yourself and others “ I’m just an impatient person that has a bit of an angry streak”. And nothing could be further from the truth. The mindful observer approach would sound more like “ hmm, my mind tends to easily get’s frustrated and worked up when I wait… something I need to look at deeper. Why so much anxiety and anger in my mind?”

See the difference?

And with that simple act of observance, you give yourself some space between stimulus of life and your reaction. And that, my mindful friends, will make all the difference.

Without Judgment.  The toughest of them all. Thou shall not judge is a phrase all great holy men have professed.   And we know it innately.   Our passing judgment on someone or an event creates a lens we see that event/person through and disables our ability to truly see the world as it is.   Life just becomes a tainted perception. One after the next.

Now, as animals we must use our skills of discernment to decide on what actions to take. Whether it be deciding not to walk through a dark alley late at night or to take a new business opportunity, we must decide if friend or foe. Fight or flight and so on. So, let’s not let this get in the way of the judgment element.

If we begin working on non-judgment. We start with ourselves, where our greatest judgment happens. We accept all the mistakes we make. We are forgiving for any of the errors we had made and we continue to seek to improve.  Be careful, as it’s easy to let the negative spiral of self-judgment send us down a self-defeating path. Be gentle with thyself.

As some of my author friends would say, Let life go. Let it be.

There it is, mindfulness defined.   In our next post, I’ll start to explore the big fundamental pillars for Presence, Acceptance and Compassion.   And remember, being Mindful is not the same as having a full Mindful Practice.

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