Mindfulness is an ancient Budhist practice which is very relevant for life today. It refers to a psychological quality that involves bringing one's complete attention to the present experience on a moment to moment basis. It could also be described as kind of non-judgemental, present-centered awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is.
Mindfulness is actually very simple concept. It is simply a practical way to notice thoughts, physical sensations, sights, sounds, smells – anything we might not normally notice. The actual skills might be simple, but because it is so different to how our minds normally behave, it takes a lot of practice. Mindfulness can simply be noticing what we don't normally notice, because our heads are too busy in the future or in the past - thinking about what we need to do, or going over what we have done.
For example, Carol Vivyan, explains how we are simply often set on auto-pilot in many activities of our life. In a car, we can sometimes drive for miles on automatic pilot, without really being aware of what we are doing. In the same way, we may not be really 'present' moment-by-moment, for much of our lives: We can often be 'miles away' without knowing it.On automatic pilot, we are more likely to have our "buttons pressed”: Events around us and thoughts, feelings and sensations in the mind (of which we may be only dimly aware) can trigger old habits of thinking that are often unhelpful and may lead to worsening mood.
By becoming more aware of our thoughts, feelings, and body sensations, from moment to moment, we give ourselves the possibMility of greater freedom and choice; we do not have to go into the same old “mental ruts” that may have caused problems in the past.
Mindfulness training has at least 5 broad beneficial effects, according to Felicia Huppert, Professor of Psychology of the University of Cambridge's Well-Being Institute. Specifically, mindfulness promotes:
- increased sensory awareness
- greater cognitive control
- enhanced regulation of emotions
- acceptance of transient thoughts and feelings
- the capacity to regulate attention
The primary focus in Mindfulness Meditation is the breathing. However, the primary goal is a calm, non-judging awareness, allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go without getting caught up in them. This creates calmness and acceptance. The following link takes you to the Mindful Breathing Script/Handout created by Carol Vivyan to help you started.
Mindul Breathing Script
Many of our intrusive thoughts come with an emotional flavour. Often these are negative – we suddenly remember a recent argument, which makes us angry, or the time we embarrassed ourselves in front of others. It is all to easy to get caught up by these intrusive emotional thoughts and to ruminate on them at length. Again, mindfulness encourages a more de-centred perspective on these feelings: they should be noted, and let pass. "Simply recognising your feelings gives you a choice in how you are going to respond, rather than reacting automatically in ways that lead to trouble", says Professor Huppert.
Using mindfulness to cope with negative experiences
As we become more practised at using mindfulness for breathing, body sensations and routine daily activities, so we can then learn to be mindful of our thoughts and feelings, to become observers, and subsequently more accepting. This results in less distressing feelings, and increases our level of functioning and ability to enjoy our lives.
Jon Kabat-Zinn uses the example of waves to help explain mindfulness. Think of your mind as the surface of a lake or an ocean. There are always waves on the water, sometimes big, sometimes small, sometimes almost imperceptible. The water's waves are churned up by winds, which come and go and vary in direction and intensity, just as do the winds of stress and change in our lives, which stir up waves in our mind. It's possible to find shelter from much of the wind that agitates the mind. Whatever we might do to prevent them, the winds of life and of the mind will blow, do what we may
"You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf" (Kabat-Zinn 2004).