Mindfulness Ė what it is and what it isnít

What is Mindfulness?

‘Mindfulness is deliberately paying attention to things we would not normally even notice, and becoming aware of our present moment experience as it arises, non-judgementally, and with kindness and compassion.  When we practice mindfulness, we pay attention to what is happening in our mind and our body and our thoughts, as well as to emotions and physical sensations as they are arising.’  Anna Black ‘Living in the Moment’ p.10

John Kabat-Zinn, who has developed mindfulness into a major therapeutic aid, put it rather nicely – (I paraphrase) ‘mindfulness returns us from a state of human doing to one of human being.’

What Mindfulness Isn’t … And What It Is

Mindfulness is all the rage, but there are many misconceptions. It isn’t a form of relaxation, a technique, or even a meditation practice. It isn’t about doing things slowly or emptying your mind; it isn’t Buddhist, and it isn’t scientific. It isn’t easy … but, then again, it isn’t difficult. And it isn’t a fad. So what is it?

1.     It’s not just about relaxing
Mindfulness just means noticing what’s happening, including the things we find difficult. It doesn’t involve listening to panpipes to escape your worries. As you practice, however, your body will tend to relax naturally and this, in itself, is beneficial to health and well-being, particularly if your days are stress-full.

2.     It isn’t a meditation practice
Mindfulness practices have been adapted from Eastern religious practices, in particular Buddhist meditation. Unlike a Buddhist monk, however, for whom meditation is a way to spiritual enlightenment, mindfulness aims ‘simply’ to help the practitioner to find a different, more healthy, sensitive and calm way to respond to experiences throughout the day.

3.     It isn’t just a technique
To be effective, mindfulness isn’t something you do once in a while when you feel like it. Being mindful is more a way of being. Practising mindfulness develops an awareness of the present moment, which can increasingly become one’s ‘normal’ state of mind. You could say it’s a faculty, or a quality of mind that we all have to some extent and can develop further through practice.

4.     It isn’t a way to fix your problems
Mindfulness can help you address stress, anxiety, depression, or chronic pain: not by fixing them as a drug might fix them, but by enabling you to relate to them in a new way. Mindfulness really means living with appreciation and curiosity and discovering new possibilities and powers within oneself.

5.     It isn’t about emptying your mind
Being mindful does not mean your mind being empty of thoughts. Minds produce thoughts – it’s what they’re built for – and they keep producing them even when you’re meditating. But you can become calm and settled by being aware of your thoughts and learning to let them go. And exploring your thoughts can help you understand what it is that might be bugging you, and give insight into how your mind really works.

6.     It isn’t a science.
Research into the effects of mindfulness and its impact on the brain is impressive. It’s a big part of what’s bringing mindfulness into the mainstream. But although you can measure what mindfulness does, you can’t measure what it is. That’s requires feeling, intuition and sensitivity. Measuring mindfulness is a science; practising it is an art.

7.     It isn’t difficult … or easy
Mindfulness skills are essentially simple and easy to learn. Life, however, is often complicated. The mindful approach is that you don’t have to work out everything all at once. You just have to be aware and manage what’s happening in this moment. Simple!  Except that years of living non-mindfully, being subject to un-ceasing daily demands and worries, means that changing to being mindful requires a lot of effort and practice. So, whilst it isn’t difficult … it also isn’t easy. Becoming mindful requires patience and resolve as well as openness and gentleness to oneself.

8.  And it isn’t a fad
Mindfulness is certainly popular, but is it a fad? Mindfulness is a quality of the mind. It has always been.



Alan Armstrong

Penarth Natural Health Services
11 Bradenham Place
CF64 2AG

M. 07836 679128
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