What is Mindfulness?



Originally posted 2012

“Mindfulness is the awareness that arises through moment to moment, non-judgement awareness” Jon Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness is simple but simple does not mean easy.

The simplicity lies in the fact that to be mindful we do not have to DO anything, we just have to BE. Therein lies the difficulty. We are so conditioned to DO that we don’t remember how to just BE. Mindfulness is about attending to what is really going on, not what we think is going on. It is about being aware of what is happening now and not being carried away in the past or absorbed in a fantasy of the future. Take some time to observe a 2 year old. They are not stuck in the past or obsessing about the future, they are wholly and solely focused on this very train they are playing with, or this very bug they are crushing! And then observe the pure happiness or joy they experience from the smallest things – wouldn’t it be great if we could all remember how to do that? We were all 2 once (a very long time ago for some of us!).

 According to Jon Kabat-Zinn (and the broader Buddhist tradition) there are seven key areas to focus on when cultivating mindfulness in your life. These are:

1.       Non- Judgement – adopting the role of “observer”, an impartial witness to your experience
2.            Patience – knowing that things will unfold in their own time
3.            Beginner’s mind – noticing that no moment is the same, reveling in the wonder of the now
4.            Trust – developing a trust in yourself and your feelings
5.            Non-striving – letting go of the desire to “get somewhere”
6.            Acceptance – a willingness to see things as they really are
7.     Letting go – allowing thoughts, feelings and situations to be what they are and not attaching a desire to control them

These seven areas are all good and well I hear you say! But what about when I am stuck in traffic with a screaming child in the back, running late for a music class I don’t even want to go to, on the phone to a demanding boss and trying to each lunch…..how do I adopt a non-judging, patient, beginner’s mind, accept, trust and let go while releasing my desire to “get somewhere”? I hope to cover each of these seven attitudes in more detail in my blog in the future but in short, you just be where you are…..you remove the additional stress of worrying about not being where you would like to be…..you just allow yourself to be there – in all of the chaos. Step back mentally and watch it all happening, as though it were happening to someone else. Remove the pressure and just watch……and breathe, God, don’t forget to breathe. 

The breath is a key tool in cultivating mindfulness. Our breath provides a trusty refuge for us in the chaos of our modern lives. In the past, I would become so annoyed when people would lecture me about the wonderful qualities of the breath….”the breath this, the breath that, bla bla bla, yadda yadda, yadda…” I used to think. But after a very long sales process, I have finally bought into the idea of the power of the breath. It truly does provide the bridge between body and mind and is a very excellent tool that is there for us to use all the time.

So, there it is - a quick definition of mindfulness. Seems far too short for such a massive topic. However something that has constantly occurred to me is the feeling that we tend to use so many complicated whizz-bang words to explain such a simple topic. I think one of my early teachers captured it in three simple words “awareness, awareness, awareness”.