What is Mindfulness and why does it matter? Why did Time Magazine do a cover story on it recently?
Mindfulness is the act of paying attention to what is happening in the present moment, with a non-judgmental attitude. It is a conscious effort to be fully aware of the present moment. It is the opposite of being on autopilot. Have you ever done a routine task and then had no memory of doing it? Or had a conversation with someone and not been able to remember what was said? Getting distracted is a normal part of life, especially in a culture where there are so many demands on our attention. Routines help us act more efficiently and we are ‘wired’ for automatic responses, but these can come at a price. The price is that we react without thinking in many situations where we might be better served if we took a moment to pause, consider what is happening, and choose our response.
Mindfulness helps us be able to do that and that is why it matters. It can be a powerful tool to help reduce stress and cope with difficulties. Science is suggesting that a mindfulness practice can be healing both physically and emotionally. Mindfulness is good for our brain, our body and our relationships.
While mindfulness is about being rather than doing, it requires a lot of effort to begin to practice. Practice can be loosely broken into formal and informal practice. A formal practice (meditation) involves sitting quietly for a specific period of time and focusing on your breath or on a word or prayer. When your mind wanders, simply notice where it has gone and gently, in a non-judgmental way, bring it back to the focus you have chosen.
Informal practice means bringing mindfulness to any of your daily activities. For example, what if you focused on all of the sensations you experienced while taking a shower in the morning, gently bringing your mind back each time you started to think about something else? Would you experience your shower in a different way? What if you brought that same attention to each conversation you had throughout the day? Would it change your relationships?
This is a very, very brief introduction to Mindfulness which is an ancient practice. There are thousands of books and articles that have been written about it from many points of view. Here are two resources: Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn updated in 2013, No Man is an Island by Thomas Merton, 2005.