What is Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a natural and intuitive way of being which is accessible to everyone, regardless of their faith or cultural background.
It involves paying attention to our present moment experience with an attitude of openness, kindness and acceptance and meeting our experience in a compassionate and non judgmental way.
Being mindful is often described as a sense of “coming home’; a feeling of completeness and being connected in a more meaningful way to yourself and the world around you.
Mindful presence will have been felt by all of us at some point: perhaps whilst walking in a place of natural beauty, being completely immersed in a hobby, favorite sport or past time, in emotionally engaging moments with a loved one, or at the birth of a child. These are the times when we fully appreciate our present moment experience, and all our senses are engaged in what is happening, while it is happening.
But in our day to day existence, we can easily lose touch with the ability to simply “be”, and find ourselves scattered, frantically multitasking to get things done, and trapped in ruminative cycles of thought about what’s happened that morning or what may be around the corner. Meanwhile we are missing out on what is unraveling right in front of our eyes.
Often when we are feeling low it is because we have been swept away by our thoughts, either ruminating about the past or projecting into the future, without even knowing that it’s happening. Whilst in this “autopilot”, our buttons can be easily pushed, and we can find ourselves going down some well trodden negative paths, fuelled by our recent and distant pasts, which can result in stress, anxiety and depression.
Through engaging with regular mindfulness meditation practice, we notice when the “butterfly”, or “monkey” mind has swept us away from the present moment and we are lost in thinking, and also when we are adding more conflict to our internal experience by attempting to cling to things we like, and try to change, fix or suppress things we don’t like.
Instead we develop a more aware and compassionate stance, learning to accept and open up to our thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations, rather than fight against them.
Once we have learnt to step away from our habitual and automatic reactions to things, we can start to respond more skillfully to the difficulties and challenges that life brings.
MRI scans have revealed that mindfulness can literally re-sculpt our brain, increasing grey matter concentration in areas relating to emotional regulation, perspective taking, and sustained attention and recent research has also shown that training in Mindfulness not only helps boost our immune response, but can increase our capacity for happiness and wellbeing.
Although the origins of secular mindfulness derive from the ancient practice of Buddhism, it has become increasingly popular in the modern world.
There is currently an ongoing campaign run by the Mental Health Foundation, to increase awareness and access to Mindfulness interventions in the UK (www.bemindful.co.uk) and it now used regularly in both medical and educational contexts worldwide.