Every once in a while I need to revisit this fundamental question. People ask and are often confused by the term “mindfulness.” Or it carries “New Age” baggage it doesn’t deserve.
Mindfulness is as practical and mainstream a concept as discipline or integrity.
Have you ever read stories about a woman who didn’t realize she was pregnant and then suddenly gave birth in the bathroom? That’s the opposite of mindfulness. Being so completely cut off from your own feelings, bodily sensations and thoughts that major events are unfolding within you and you don’t know it.
Being mindful is about being aware. You practice certain “focus exercises” which lead to higher and higher levels of awareness. As a result, you know immediately when something’s brewing, whether it be a change in your physical well-being, a shifting mood, an errant thought or a persistent negative belief. Then you get to choose what to do about it. No awareness: no choice.
Another ingredient of mindfulness is acceptance. It’s one thing to know what you’re thinking and feeling. It’s another to observe it with acceptance. If you’re fighting the reality of the moment; saying, “I shouldn’t be feeling/thinking this!” you’re not being mindful.
Being mindful requires what we call “backstage awareness.” You’re watching the thoughts, feelings and sensations that arise within you as a neutral observer; from backstage, as it were. You are not your thoughts. You are not your feelings. You’re the one calmly observing them, and therefore not identified to them; not their prisoner.
Whatever you’re feeling or thinking is OK. Observing it with compassion and detachment, you’ll notice it will eventually pass of its own accord…and you’re still there!
The result of a mindful approach to life is that you begin to realize some very positive benefits:
- Decreased stress
- Freedom from addiction
- General happiness and well-being
- Control over your appetite and weight
- Greater insight and wisdom
- Emotional balance
- Better relationships
- More choices
- Lower blood pressure
- Increased intelligence
…to name just a few. So, if this idea is appealing to you, the means by which to improve your mindfulness is to strengthen your focus. You can do that through meditation or by a daily commitment to observing yourself or your present surroundings with complete neutral attention. Stop letting your mind take you away on journeys into the past or future. Eventually, you’ll see the value of mindfulness.
PS. If you want to assess your level of mindfulness and how it’s affecting your happiness and success, take The Mindfulness Quiz on the right.