What is Mindfulness?


Let’s start by providing some definitions from a couple of well-known sources:-

“A mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations….” - Oxford Dictionary.

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally” - Jon Kabat-Zinn, Founder of MBSR (see explanation below).

So what does that actually mean?  In order to explain this, allow me to digress slightly………...  Recently, it has been discovered that on average our minds wander 46.9 percent of the time.

46.9%!

Really…. it's true.

Two students from Harvard created an app called 'Track your Happiness'.  This app tracks people’s every day activities in order to gauge their level of happiness.  People choose from general activities like walking, working, eating, shopping, watching television etc., and the research has proved that on average our minds wander 46.9% – almost half our daily lives!

cambridgenetwork.co.uk

So where do you suppose our focus is, then, in all that time?  Mostly, we are either thinking of the past, or being concerned about the future – this is otherwise known as automatic pilot, or the monkey mind - you know the one, talks at you, says I must/should do this/that, judges everything, beats us up, keeps our minds really, really busy all the time.

Imagine this scenario.  You are walking down the road.........here is the kind of mind-wandering that might go on.......

“Look at that dog!  So tiny.  Oh, there’s another one in that car.  That’s a really old car - wonder if it’s here for that car rally at the Royal.  Mmmmm, that Hotel’s got that lovely swimming pool and Jacuzzi; Jo and I had a great day there.  Must give her a call, about time us girls had a night out, when was the last time?  March!  Blimey, just before Sarah gave birth to Megan.  I should call her, we haven’t spoken for a month!  John must have his promotion by now.  I’m such a bad friend.  They were going away to celebrate.  Wonder where.  Maybe Venice.  Sarah will love Venice.  Oh yes, Sis was going to fix Daniel’s toy boat.  Bet she’s forgotten.  I’m always having to remind her – like that time she forgot Mum’s birthday.  Oh! I forgot the flowers for tomorrow’s dinner party.  Wonder if Stu will get them for me......I left it to the last minute as usual!  Really hope Stu’s boss appreciates our efforts..........”

So you see, we are less focused than we really could be, and therefore we have to ask ourselves then, how much are we actually enjoying our day at all?  How much are we making the most of right now - this present moment?

This brilliant video explains this all very clearly.  This is Matt Killingsworth, one of the students that created Track Your Happiness - and who is now a Scholar of Psychology.


What’s this got to do with Mindfulness I hear you ask?  Well, Mindfulness is about becoming aware of what is happening in the here and now, and allowing things to be just as they are.

By paying attention to that mind-wandering, and allowing it to be there (rather than judging whether it's right or wrong), this gives our minds a much needed rest - it's like pressing the ‘pause’ button, switching off from all that busyness. 

We have all had moments like that, for example when over-awed by a stunning view, or when totally engrossed in painting, dancing, listening to music etc.  That moment when the mind is completely focused, calm and clear.

As we build more and more moments like these into our daily lives, this helps us change our relationship with our thoughts, and gives us more control over what we focus on!

“If you can learn to pay attention and not get dragged into unhelpful thoughts, you've broken the chains of slavery.  Our thinking mind will beg, scream, urge, tantalize you to drag you off to wherever it wants but if you can keep focus, the benefits are biological, psychological and neurological.  Boom!  I bet you never connected all that with paying attention”

Ruby Wax - Huffington Post, 06/08/15.


Here’s a lovely little 1 minute video that explains this very easily.

Mindfulness-based Therapies

Various therapies have been devised to help those with diagnosed mental/physical conditions. 

MBSR

MBCT

The two most well known and most widely offered are Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Therapy (MBSR) and Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). 

Both MBSR and MBCT courses teach the basic principles of Mindfulness - paying attention to the present moment.  MBSR, however, particularly teaches those dealing with physical illness and pain, and so concentrates primarily on the body.  MBCT particularly teaches those dealing with anxiety and depression, and so concentrates primarily on thoughts and feelings.  They do also use each other’s exercises.

Generic Mindfulness courses teach the basic principles, and touch lightly on MBSR/MBCT exercises. 

Other less widely known Mindfulness-based therapies include Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT).

Now, come find out why everybody's talking about Mindfulness...................