"The realization that you have control and influence over your own life is a key concept you will need to understand to practice mindfulness."
- Janet Louise Stephenson
Basics of Mindfulness
The definition of mindfulness is simply paying attention to what is transpiring in the present moment, without judgment. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, renowned mindfulness teacher and researcher, mindfulness is also “a particular way of looking deeply inside to promote understanding and healing with an acceptance of what is.”
To fully understand mindfulness we must first recognize the importance of focusing on our breathing. Since our breath is always with us and easily accessible, following it anchors us in the present moment. It is our “friend” and regulator. When our mind wanders, and it will, we gently bring it back to our breathing and the present moment, without judgment.
In addition, our feelings about our mindfulness practice play an important role in the success of living “mindfully.” Nine inter-related attitudinal factors form the foundation of mindfulness. (See “Tree of Mindfulness) As we cultivate these factors in our practice, they in turn strengthen mindfulness within ourselves and in our relationship with others. They are:
Non-judging: Learning to be an impartial witness to our own daily experiences: not labeling them either good or bad, but just taking note of what they are now.
Patience: Understanding and accepting that things sometimes unfold in their own time; being open to each moment in the present.
Beginner’s Mind: Seeing afresh…looking at things as if for the first time with an unbiased view and a sense of curiosity.
Trust: Honoring ourselves and our feelings; believing in our own instincts.
Non-striving: Being in a state of non-doing and allowing ourselves to “be” without trying to change anything.
Acceptance: Coming to terms with what is and seeing things as they really are in the present.
Letting go: Accepting things as they are with no attachment or expectation.
Kindness: Bringing compassion for ourselves as we are now without self-blame or criticism.
Curiosity: Noticing what is happening in the moment with our emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations.
Mindfulness can be practiced informally or formally. Formal mindfulness practice involves setting aside a specific amount of time, usually thirty minutes or longer every day, to consciously “go inside” and be aware of what is sensed or felt in the body, using the breath as an anchor. This practice can include a sitting/walking meditation, body scan (systematic scan of body parts), or yoga session. Informal mindfulness involves finding brief moments in everyday life to be present. Instead of multi-tasking or spending extended periods on automatic pilot, the focus is on one activity at a time, without distraction.