What is Mindfulness?

Written by Laura Walton, LMFT | Amanda Hope Comfort and Care Counselor

Mindfulness is the state of being aware. 

A mindfulness practice is the practice of nonjudgmental awareness of the moments that comprise your life.  The intention behind a mindfulness practice might be so that we can more richly experience our lives as they are happening, as opposed to the common pitfall of spending most of our time mentally rehashing past events, or worrying about what may or may not happen in the future.  Life can feel so much more meaningful when we learn to pay attention to each moment, moment by moment.  The present moment is all we ever really have.

Research also backs up mindfulness.  Studies have shown mindfulness to aid in stress reduction, lessening symptoms of anxiety and depression, and improving memory, focus, and cognitive flexibility.  Mindfulness has also been shown reduce emotional reactivity and psychological distress, and to increase relationship satisfaction, intuition, self-insight, immune function, information processing, and overall well-being. 

*from Davis, D.  2012.  What are the Benefits of Mindfulness?  American Psychological Association, 64.

Sound good?  Great, so how do we practice mindfulness?  This blog will offer mindfulness teachings, tips, common pitfalls, and fun activities to help to incorporate mindfulness into our lives.

Let’s start with a story:

 “There was once a mindfulness institute that placed an advertisement in a daily newspaper and in various social media sites.  The short ad read as follows: 

One Day Enlightenment.  Guaranteed.  Call:  555-MINDFUL

 A woman saw this ad and got very excited.  She had been dealing with daily stressors, a new job, and health issues.  She called to get the address and the very next morning she went to the institute and found one of the instructors.

“I saw your ad.  What do you mean by enlightenment?” she asked.

“Clarity of mind,” said the instructor.  “Also, a sense of peace and inner calm, even in the midst of life’s difficulties.  All you have to do,” he explained, “is to follow your breath completely, noticing the in-breath, the pause, and the out-breath – without any distractions for the next seven hours to realize your goal.”

The woman glanced at her watch, smiled, and said, “Fabulous.  I’ll have my enlightenment by dinner time!  Sign me up.”  She was given a cushion to sit on, and so she began.  The first in-breath was fantastic, and she was present with it the entire time.  Right then, however, a siren blazed outside.  The woman’s sense of hearing grabbed onto the siren and brought it inside her mine, where it started to spin a story: That’s loud.  Don’t they know we’re trying to get our enlightenment in here?!

Just then she realized she had forgotten about her breath.  And so she started again, noticing the complete in-breath and then being present with the pause.  She was just starting her out-breath when a fly buzzed by.  She opened her eyes and her sense of sight went and grabbed the fly and brought it inside her mind.  Again, the mind spun in an elaborate story:  I wonder if we’re going to have lunch, because having flies isn’t a good idea.  Maybe someone left the window open.  Who should I talk to?  Finally she remembered about her breath, and so she started again….and again.  As the story goes, she was still there ten years later trying to get her seven consecutive hours of breath awareness!

That’s why mindfulness is more accurately called re-mindfulness.  It’s totally ok to remind yourself to come back to being aware of the mind and body and environment time and time again.  There’s no being perfect with mindfulness.  You don’t have to stop your thoughts, either.  Just noticing them is good enough.  In fact, when it comes to learning mindfulness, good enough is always good enough.  Because mindfulness is re-mindfulness, there’s never any failure with it.  And it’s why mindfulness is a way of inviting and practicing kindness towards yourself.”

*from Altman, D.  2014.  The Mindfulness Toolbox.  Eau Claire, WI: PESI Publishing & Media.

Mindfulness for your journey:

The practice of mindfulness can be started anywhere, and at any time.  Mindfulness can be practiced at home, at work, in the hospital, while you are driving, or anywhere else you happen to be.  A mindfulness practice can help you to stay present during your child's treatment, to stay present with the relationships in your life, and to stay present when you are feeling sad, angry, happy, and everything in between.