What is Mindfulness?

What is Mindfulness?

Note: below I have described “mindfulness” as it is popularly known in modern cognitive psychology. This is but a small piece of the pie of the Buddhist practice called mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a technique usually spoken of in terms of meditation. However it can be defined as: being intentionally phenomenally aware of cognitive states. That is, being intentionally aware of your thoughts and actions in the present moment without placing values, labels or categories on these mental phenomena. It is a process of observing thoughts, feelings,, sensations, everything around you, and staying right here in the present moment.

Through the fog of conceptualization

Mindfulness meditation has been practiced by many different contemplative traditions for centuries. Its ability to shed insight into perception beyond the senses is well known in these traditions. However, only recently has the Western world, and science in particular, picked up on the role that mind plays in how we view ourselves and the world around us. Because most people are extremely busy these days, being aware of your thoughts and emotions in every moment is not simple. We can get caught up in our daily activities easily, sometimes going on autopilot for hours. Our mind can carry us from one idea to the next, without being truly aware of this process or even the individual thoughts themselves. We can get carried away with memories of the past and projections into the future. Have you ever experienced a train of thought that goes something like this: Remember that pizza from my New York holiday…oh but the seats were very uncomfortable …seats…I need a new chair…chairs…pool chairs…oh my god when I am going to get the pool cleaned…I never have enough time to myself. Does that seem familiar? You can go from having a memory of a lovely holiday to getting stressed by some unfinished work within seconds, and more importantly without even noticing each individual thought.

This mental chatter is a result of a lack of mindfulness. Being mindful, therefore, requires practice in order to master. One of the easiest ways to develop mindfulness is to meditate. It gives you the mental space required to focus on the process of every day normal consciousness. You don’t need to find a mountain retreat to meditate, you can practice mindfulness meditation at work, in a park or garden on your lunch break, on the train to work or even while walking. You don’t need to adopt a certain lifestyle or belief system. Mindfulness meditation can be practiced by anyone at anytime.

Recently, there has been a lot of research published on meditation. This science has shown the effects of mindfulness meditation on the brain, detailing just how the simple process of watching the breath or your thoughts can have remarkable positive effects on your health, blood pressure, improve your sleep, decrease stress levels and even improve your immune system.

We focus on emotion-related brain activity because meditation has been found in numerous studies to reduce anxiety and increase positive affect. In an extensive corpus of work on the functional neuroanatomical substrates of emotion and affective style, we have established that the frontal regions of the brain exhibit a specialization for certain forms of positive and negative emotion. Left-sided activation in several anterior regions is observed during certain forms of positive emotion and in subjects with more dispositional positive affect. – Professor Richard J. Davidson.

What is Mindfulness Meditation?

Mindfulness meditation is simply observing your thoughts through introspection. Bringing your awareness inside to the inner world of the mind, you let go of memories of the past or thoughts of the future. Simply watch your thoughts emerge and dissolve within the space of your mind without judgment. You can start by watching the breath. Watching the breath calms the mind. A meditator will then turn his or her attention to the mind itself. Watching thoughts, analyzing to determine the real nature of those thoughts and their functions. You can do this at any time by closing your eyes and turning your attention inward. Not only does meditation support your present life in terms of health, you will also become more productive and even more creative. Through mindfulness you will get to know who you are and why you do things.

Therefore, mindfulness is key to a flourishing life. Some may object at this point saying, “how can I find time to meditate? I’ve got too much to do to stop and idly watch my thoughts!” However, many studies have shown that mindfulness meditation reduces stress and anxiety. Which in turn, allows you to be more productive with greater efficacy, and with a higher level of satisfaction. So instead of meditation taking up time that could be better served working or “doing something”, meditation helps you get these things done more easily. Thus leaving you with more spare time not less.

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