What is Mindfulness? A working definition.
Mindfulness could simply be described as paying attention. That’s all it is really. It’s paying attention to what’s actually happening. It’s not paying attention to what we think is happening, or thinking about what is happening – it’s just paying attention to what IS happening.
Recent studies have shown that most of us are not actually focusing on what we are doing about half the time. Half the time our mind is wandering and we are following it. But these same studies have also shown that we are much happier when we pay attention to what we are doing, no matter what we are doing, and much less happy when our minds are wandering.
So Mindfulness is a training in paying attention. In the same way we go to the gym to train our muscles, with Mindfulness we train our mental muscles to be present and strengthen our capacity to be with whatever arises in our experience.
When practising Mindfulness we choose not to judge our experience or pay too much attention to whether we like what we are experiencing or not. We are not as fixated as we normally are with what we want to happen, or we don’t want to happen, but instead are just choosing to allow things to be just the way they are.
And this starts with accepting ourselves just the way we are and being kind to ourselves. Instead of constantly judging ourselves and constantly trying to work out if we are meeting the expectations of ourselves and others – in Mindfulness we start by accepting whoever we are right now – exactly as we are. We make room for ourselves to be here as we are, and let go of all the voices inside ourselves that say we need to be better at this or that or different in this way or that.
Although this may sound like we are becoming passive – nothing could be further from the truth. Why? Because to let everything be, to stay in the moment we actually need to be switched on. We are in the habit of listening to what we think about things, and not used to directly experiencing them. We are so used to unconsciously following the mind we don’t even realise we are doing it. So if we want to practise Mindfulness we have to have a strong intention to be present, and enough courage not to move away from what we experience even when we don’t like it. And when we do find ourselves off somewhere, thinking about the future or the past, or what we need to do, or like or dislike, all we do is to recognise that’s what’s happening and then come back to being present with what is. It’s like learning to ride a bike, each time we fall off – we just pick ourselves up and get back in the saddle. Minds wander – that’s just what they do – and we are not used to letting them wander while we stay present.
Mindfulness is born form the recognition that happiness in its truest sense of the word – comes not from feeling better, but from feeling everything. It comes from the knowledge that peace can only be found when we can fully accept the way things are in this moment.
It is founded in the realization that we live in the present moment always, and the more we can become aware of that fact, and avail ourselves to what this present moment holds for us, the greater our potential to be at peace is.