Importance of Mindfulness
Conscious thoughts color our feelings and experiences, loading them with ideas and concepts, landing us in the whirlpool of anxieties, apprehensions, plans and fantasies. This is our so-called normal style of being and living. However, a simple concept from the East – mindfulness – can bring healthy lifestyle changes if applied in the real life.
Mindfulness is a simple Eastern approach to living, which Western therapists have begun to recognize as a powerful tool for dealing with stress, illness and other medical or psychological conditions. Increasing number of psychotherapists around the world are applying mindfulness to treat various psychological conditions such as PTSD, depression and even personality disorders.
Rather than dwelling in the past or the future, mindfulness is learning to work in the present moment in a less reactive and less judgmental manner. In the present, you have the power to make changes to the situations affecting you. Nothing can be done in the future or past, as we don’t live there!
Mindfulness is commonly explained as
a mental state achieved by focusing one‘s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.
- Online Oxford Dictionary
From the beginners’ perspective mindfulness involves two things: (1) to maintain the presence of mind in the present moment and (2) to remain neutral and non-judgmental towards thoughts, feelings and perceptions.
Let us see the practical meaning of mindfulness in different ways so that its meaning becomes clearer and clearer.
- Mindfulness involves seeing things as they really are, not as one would like them to be. You just perceive without adding or subtracting nothing. You try keeping it “mere observation” and “bare observation”. You train to see all thoughts or feelings without judgment.
- Mindfulness is an impartial watchfulness – no prejudice, no bias. You just perceive: avoid clinging to good mental states and also avoid sidestepping the bad mental states. You avoid forming opinions or ideas. You don’t play favorites.
- Mindfulness is developing present centeredness. It is the observation of what is happening right here and right now. It is riding the ever-flowing wave of time and staying in the present moment and watching everything from there. It is staying clear of memories of the past or ideations of the future – no ruminating, no planning.
- Mindfulness is being ever ready to observe whatever comes up in the present moment in whatever form. It also involves letting go, as the present moment turns past. It is observing and letting go continuously. It is a wakeful experience of life, an alert but detached participation in the ongoing process of living.
- Mindfulness is a relaxed attention in which “nothing can offend”. You are surprised by nothing and shocked by nothing. You remain neutral to everything. It is a mental ability to observe without criticism. With this ability, you see things without preference or prejudice. You suppress nothing, promote nothing. You don’t decide or take sides.
- Applied to meditation, mindfulness points to the Pali word “sati” – from the language spoken by the Buddha, 2500 years ago. Sati implies attention, awareness, and conscious presence of mind. It is knowing but not thinking. It is merely watching or observing without getting carried away by the thoughts, memories or feelings. Sati is the foundation of mindfulness (or insight) style of meditations.
- Mindfulness means registering experiences, but not comparing them. It does not evaluate, label or categorize them. It is not reflection or analysis. Rather, direct experience of whatever unfolds but not allowing thought process to start.
- In mindfulness meditation, you watch the universe within paying no attention to the world outside. In meditation, you are your own laboratory. The internal universe has a wealth of information on the dynamics of how you relate to anything and everything. An impartial examination of the constantly changing inner world corrects your attitudes and gives you a new way of being – this is the path of freedom.
- As a meditator you are both the observer and your own object of observation at the same time. You start out as a doer who habitually does everything – thinks, feels, decides and reacts. Mindfulness promotes you as a “watchman” who observes. With practice, the role of “watchman” takes precedence and “doer” becomes subordinate. You begin to react less and respond more. It weakens the egoistic attitude of “I am doing” and gives you freedom and wisdom to shape your behavior.
- Mindfulness is seeing everything without reference to the concepts of 'me', 'my' or 'mine'. For instance, if the there is headache, ordinary consciousness would say, "I have a headache." But if trained in mindfulness, you would simply note it as a sensation in the head. You are no longer carrying the burden of 'I'. This is an important shift in your attitude. You learn to see sensations and feelings for what they, rather than labeling them as headache or pain. You just observe what is there without evaluations, ideations or conceptualization. You don’t play games of labels.
- Mindfulness is like sitting near a river and watching the flowing water. It is watching the flow of thoughts, feelings, and perceptions as they come and go. It is a dynamic process of examining the flow of life right “here and now”.
- Mindfulness is observing the passing flow of experience moment by moment. It is observing all phenomena – physical, mental or emotional – presently taking place in the mind. It is seeing the true nature of all phenomena – arising, staying for some time, and passing away – impermanence. It is only through actual training in mindfulness that you can realize “impermanence”; else it remains an illusory and obscure concept – given by the Buddha and debated by the intellectuals.
How to Learn Mindfulness
Even if you understood everything written above or have read dozens of books on mindfulness, you will not be able to incorporate it in your real life. It is an art just like swimming, playing soccer or music that must be learned and practiced. Devoted Buddhists (those who actually understand what Buddha taught) make perfection in true mindfulness as their life goal. There are two ways you may go about learning mindfulness.
- There is a do-it-yourself way through a set of audios advancing you in the art of mindfulness in a systematic way. These audios are designed through personal experience by a trained NLP and hypnosis expert. You can explore the Mindful Awareness Training System here.
- The other approach is traditional - learn mindfulness by learning Vipassana meditation. It can be learned by joining a 10-day meditation retreat of Vipassana International Academy where it is taught by experienced meditators. The schedule is going to be intensive – 10-12 hours of daily meditation in absolute silence. So check the intensity of your desire to learn this art of living before signing up.
There are a lot of misconceptions around the beautiful art of mindfulness meditation, so it might be useful to read this article along with What Meditation is Not.
7 Holistic Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness and Mental Chatter