Originally a Buddhist practice, in the past 20 years mindfulness has moved into the mainstream. Why have countless people turned to it as a way to feel happier, calmer? For one, we live in a world that constantly changes and that continues to throw us curve balls. Mindfulness is a way of being in the world that can help us navigate the ever-changing terrain and stay sane in the process.
Mindfulness can be defined in this way: the moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment. If we engage in mindfulness practices we will start to see the world and ourselves through a different lens. Our world-view will be expanded: it will become more flexible, more consistent with reality. Long-held givens might give way to more nuanced understandings as we collect data from our world in real time.
Research suggests that it has benefits for our physical as well as mental health. Mental health benefits include increased calmness, clarity and concentration (Walsh & Shapiro, 2006). Additionally, there is evidence that mindfulness meditation increases positive affect and decreases negative affect. It has also been shown to reduce stress (Hoffman et al. 2010) and decrease rumination (Chambers et al. 2008).
Here are some basic steps to cultivate mindfulness:
- Set aside some time for practice.
- Observe the present moment as it is.
- Bring an attitude of curiosity — if judgements surface, let them roll by.
- When you find your mind drifting as it inevitably will, bring it back to the present moment.
- Above all, be kind and gentle with yourself.
Sounds simple, right? In theory, yes, but it is often challenging to put it into practice. For one, long-standing habits are incredibly hard to change. It is also the case that many of us have built of ways to protect ourself that involve avoiding our feelings or certain feelings, chronically disconnecting from our body, and an over focus on goals at the expense of process.
Being more mindful leaves us with more heart and skin in the game of life. If we’ve been hurt and not properly healed, we are likely reluctant to engage in mindfulness practices that lead to increased connection with ourselves, with others, and with the larger world. It is understandable that we are cautious about the kind of trust it takes to do this. Psychotherapy can be helpful if want to engage fully in life but want to do it safely, skillfully.