What is mindfulness?
Put simply, mindfulness is the practice of paying attention, on purpose, and with open-hearted curiosity, to the present moment – to what is happening in your body, your mind and in the world around you.
Mindfulness is all about living in the present - being aware of what is happening right now, instead of dwelling in the past or focusing on the future. Cultivating this ability to observe, without judgement, can help us to respond to our experiences with clarity and focus, rather than reacting out of old habits and patterns.
Cultivating a regular mindfulness practice can help us move towards greater balance, choice and participation in our lives. It can give us the capacity to feel more curious, to live with greater acceptance, and to accept our thoughts, emotions, physical sensations and situation, without judging them as good or bad.
Mindfulness opens up the possibility of living with more authority and working wisely and compassionately with life’s challenges, so we can choose what is most nourishing, for ourselves and others.
Mindfulness is an ancient practice of meditation that comes from the Buddhist tradition. At its core, mindfulness is really concerned with learning how to reduce suffering, for ourselves and others. It’s about the awareness that arises when we pay attention, on purpose, in the present moment, with curiosity and interest.
Would you like to find out more about mindfulness? Watch this short video, and have a go at your own simple, short mindfulness practice, led by Timothea Goddard.
How can mindfulness help?
One of the things that mindfulness is known for is learning to be in the present moment. But every moment is full of thoughts! Is this a problem?
What are these thoughts about? Many of us spend a lot of our thinking on the past, or the future. Can mindfulness really help us to live more
in the present, and shift out of our automatic patterns of thinking? Find out more in this short video from Tim.
How does mindfulness affect the nervous system?
One of the most basic and important ways that mindfulness meditation practice helps people is by regulating the nervous system. In this video,
Tim explains the difference between our sympathetic nervous system (which controls activity, mobilisation, and our fight/flight/freeze response)
and the parasympathetic nervous system (rest, recuperation, sleep), and how a mindfulness practice can help us move to a place of greater rest
How can mindfulness help with emotional reactivity?
One of the most powerful benefits of mindfulness is its capacity to help us reduce emotional reactivity to our thoughts and feelings. Our emotional
responses to negative experiences have a huge impact on our wellbeing, and can ultimately manifest in anxiety and depression. In this video,
Tim explains how mindfulness training can help us to cultivate our capacity to pay more deliberate attention to pleasant experiences, and to
approach our unpleasant experiences and feelings with less reactivity.
How does mindfulness differ from mindfulness meditation?
Mindfulness is everywhere these days. Sometimes trying to understand the different kinds of mindfulness, and decide which is right for you can
be confusing. One area of misunderstanding is the difference between mindfulness and mindfulness meditation. Simply put, mindfulness is a way
of paying attention in a particular way, whereas mindfulness meditation is the training ground, where we can practice our mindfulness skill
so we can apply it in our daily lives. Check out this video from Tim to find out more.
Are there situations where mindfulness is contra-indicated?
The ability to pay attention is central to the practice of mindfulness, so what happens if you’re not able to pay attention – if you’re taking
medication, or are impacted by substance use or serious mental illness? Often, in the hands of a skillful teacher, mindfulness can still be
adapted and used for people with all kinds of challenges. Tim explains how in this video…
How can allied health professionals use mindfulness for self-care?
Health care can be a highly stressful and demanding profession. Health professionals are often exposed to high levels of suffering, and this can
have a profound effect on wellbeing. Training in an in-depth, evidence-based mindfulness practice can help health professionals to take better
care of themselves, so they can continue to help others. Tim explains why longer mindfulness programs can be especially beneficial for people
working in this challenging and important sector.
Seven shenanigans in the world of mindfulness
In this video, Tim talks to health professionals about the ‘shenanigans’ of mindfulness – seven issues to be aware of as a mindfulness teacher or practitioner. Take some time to watch this longer video (22 minutes) for a more in-depth discussion.
What mindfulness is NOT…
Now that you know a little of what mindfulness is, let’s talk about what it isn’t.
The direct opposite of mindfulness is mindlessness, and this can occur in a three ways*:
- Zoning out or numbing ourselves
The first kind of mindlessness is a kind of disconnection from life. It involves being on autopilot and not being present to what is here – in our relationships with friends, partners and children, work, and our environment. This can lead to a kind of deadness or dullness in our day-to-day relating and living. We can also dull ourselves with habits that don't serve us but are kind of soothing. We all know how to do this: over-eating or drinking too much alcohol, over-use of our phone or watching too much TV, and not pursuing our interests or relationships wholeheartedly.
- Resisting or avoiding our current experience
In every life, there are unpleasant moments. Many of us have cultivated the habit of wishing away or trying to avoid what is unpleasant in the moment. This can manifest as fear, anxiety, a sense of urgency to get on to the next thing, frustration, and negatively judging ourselves and others. We can miss huge swathes of our actual lives by not engaging directly with the realities before us, because we have the idea that things ‘shouldn't’ be the way they are. We feel that nothing is quite right or good enough or safe enough. Mindfulness is the practice of embracing all of life – the joy and the difficulty – and letting go of the battle with what is simply here. This takes some courage. We learn how to tolerate and explore our stress and distress, learning from it, and freeing us up for more clear action and authority in our lives.
- Wishing for a more ideal future
We can also spend lots of time wishing for something better – an ideal experience, not too cold or hot, not too stimulating but not boring. We strive to have things just the way we like them – setting up an endless quest for the ideal life – and only then will we rest and be happy. We idealise jobs, people, ideas, and possessions in the hope they will make us feel better when we finally attain them. And in doing this, we miss all the lived experience and value that is here now – the only time we can experience anything. By living this way, we set up a pattern of constant criticism of ourselves for having not yet attained this life. To start seeing this as a pattern of the mind – just thoughts rather than reality – can be very liberating.
We do these things because we’re smart mammals, and we’re hard-wired to secure stability and homeostasis for ourselves and those close to us. Unfortunately,
change is constant and loss is inevitable. When we come to realise this and accept it and live with it in mind, everything opens up. More risks
can be taken and more true peace can be found in the midst of a busy, demanding and imperfect life. We take things both more seriously and
*Adapted with permission from an excellent book by Michael Bunting - The Mindful Leader, 2016.