WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?
Mindfulness refers to intentionally being present in the present moment with acceptance and non-judgement. The term is derived from a form of Buddhist meditation and equates to the Pali words sati and sampajana, referring to awareness, discernment, circumspection, and retention (Shapiro & Carlson, 2009).
Although the term is of Buddhist origins, mindfulness is ubiquitous – a natural part of being human. We have all experienced at least moments of mindfulness, of being fully present to the present moment. During such moments, we often experience the vividness of small details and the potential richness of our experience. We become aware of the world around us and within us: the light filtering through the curtains, the smell of the neighbours’ dinner, the percussive rat-a-tat-tat of a woodpecker, the pulse in our fingertips, our fleeting thoughts and emotions, our own breath.
Unfortunately, we pass through much of our lives mindlessly on automatic pilot – body present, awareness elsewhere – planning for the future, thinking about the past, trapped by conceptualisations or assumptions and by our unconscious physical, emotional, and cognitive patterns and conditionings. On automatic pilot we are partially absent to the events that make up our lives. We cannot experience pleasant events, sensations, connections with others, or even joy if we are not present to them. And we cannot "tune out" unpleasant thoughts, sensations, emotions, or experiences without also shutting out the potentially wonderful moments that may arise simultaneously.
Mindful awareness is a way of being in which one has an open awareness of all that arises in one’s realm of experience, moment by moment. This can include accepting, non-judgemental awareness of:
a) Internal events (including physical sensations, thoughts, emotions, reactions);
b) External events (including sights, sounds, other people); and
c) The interplay between internal and external, or even between internal aspects of mind or other aspects of self.
Mindful awareness can be cultivated through the practice of mindfulness meditation:
Formal exercises form the basis of the practice and are practiced daily in a time that has specifically been set aside for them. Like finger exercises as one learns to play a musical instrument, they are required to develop proficiency and to reap the benefits – which are potentially extensive; burgeoning research on the mind-body connection points to the state of mind as having significant influence on physiology and health of brain and body – right down to gene expression (epigenetics). Formal exercises include awareness of breath, the body scan, sitting meditation, walking meditation, and loving-kindness meditation.
Informal Exercises are practiced throughout the day, heightening awareness as fully as possible in order to experience the present moment, one moment at a time. Awareness can be focused on physical sensations, sounds, visual stimuli, conversations, walking, the breath, or whatever is occurring in the present moment.
Mindfulness has been demonstrated to benefit the body, brain, and emotional wellbeing. For more information, see The Science of mindfulness.