What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness practice is the intentional cultivation of moment to moment awareness without identification with our judgments or reactions. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, said that "the key to mindfulness is not so much what you choose to focus on but the quality of the awareness that you bring to each moment. It is very important that it be non-judgmental, more of a silent witnessing, a dispassionate observing, rather than a running commentary on your inner experience". Observing without judging, moment by moment, helps you see what is on your mind without editing or censoring it, without intellectualizing it or getting lost in your own incessant thinking. Mindfulness can be cultivated with practice..  

Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on  purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” Jon Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness, as it applies to therapy, is perhaps most easily understood as developing the skill of non-judgmental awareness and acceptance of present-moment experience, including all of the unwanted thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges that are at the heart of conditions like anxiety, depression, and obsessive compulsive disorder. What this means is that, from a mindfulness perspective, the individual's primary agenda ought not be to change or eliminate their unwanted thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges, but rather to fully acknowledge and accept them.

Note that this does not mean to suggest that one should or must learn to enjoy these painful experiences. Rather, the aim of mindfulness is to recognize and accept that these uncomfortable experiences are transitory and inevitable aspects of human life. From a mindfulness perspective, not accepting these unwanted inner experiences is the source of much of our self-induced suffering. Furthermore, fully accepting the reality of their existence is more likely to lead to a reduction in our suffering than any attempts at resisting and controlling these experiences.

We might begin a mindfulness practice by simply sitting and noticing the breath….Perhaps by paying attention to all sounds that enter the ears right at this moment….Or perhaps by noticing the tension rising in the body during incidents at work or in personal relationships. . This is the practice of non-doing; of just being. With committed daily practice, we begin to intentionally cultivate the art of non-interference; that skill of watching, of being aware as events, thoughts, emotions and sensations pass without letting our old reactions get in the way.

The foundations of mindfulness are basic to many traditional meditative practices. Also known as insight or vipassana meditation, these practices are non-sectarian and non-religious in nature. Mindfulness formal practices include mindful sitting, mindful walking and body scan meditations. Informal mindfulness practice refers to the cultivation of present-moment awareness during daily activities.

Mindfulness involves paying attention “on purpose”. Mindfulness involves a conscious direction of our awareness. We sometimes talk about “mindfulness” and “awareness” as if they were interchangeable terms, but that’s not a good habit to get into. I may be aware I’m irritable, but that wouldn’t mean I was being mindful of my irritability. In order to be mindful I have to be purposefully aware of myself, not just vaguely and habitually aware. Knowing that you are eating is not the same as eating mindfully.

Left to itself the mind wanders through all kinds of thoughts — including thoughts expressing anger, craving, depression, revenge, self-pity, etc. As we indulge in these kinds of thoughts we reinforce those emotions in our hearts and cause ourselves to suffer. By purposefully directing our awareness away from such thoughts and towards some “anchor” we decrease their effect on our lives and we create instead a space of freedom where calmness and contentment can grow.

Mindfulness approaches include mindfulness based cognitive therapy, (MBCT), mindfulness based stress reductions (MBSR), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), hakomi body centered therapy, and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Mindfulness based approaches and contemplative approaches are becoming widely accepted methods for relieving symptoms related to many psychological issues and can be applied across many different population segments. Mindfulness is practiced individually or in group settings.  I have received training in all of these therapies. 

Three times a year I offer an introductory six week mindfulness class called the Basics of Mindfulness. For more information about this class, please go to the tab under the menu section on this site. 

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