Mindfulness can be described as a way of paying attention to the present moment, using techniques like meditation, yoga, breathing, visualisations. This then describes mindfulness in a meditative sense. But we also need to cultivate mindfulness in action – that is by becoming objective, self-aware and non-judgemental, and fully present in the moment.
We aim to become more aware of our thoughts and feelings – understanding them and becoming better equipped to deal with them. We learn to appreciate and be in the present moment, and become more aware of it e.g. tasting food, observing nature, giving a person our full attention.
In paying attention to the present moment we stop (even for a short while) worrying about the past or the future. Just think about that for a minute – how wonderful to be free of such thoughts and feelings. It also helps us to recognise the signs of oncoming anxiety and depression.
We are nearly always subjective and this causes, and is the cause of much anger, hurt, conflict and misunderstanding. It is only in reflective self-awareness that we are able to learn to be objective and be able to remove our ego-driven subjectivity, thus allowing mindfulness.
So we need to practise on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally. This practise raises our awareness, clarity and acceptance of our present reality. We can practise noticing our thoughts, physical sensations, sights, sounds, smells – things we don’t usually notice because although we experience them, we are not fully in the present moment. We can learn from mindful practice to improve our lives by enjoying more clarity, feeling calmer, and being objective.
Often our automatic responses are driven by old habits of thinking that are often less than helpful! Such responses can put us in ever - worsening moods. By becoming aware of thoughts, feelings and body sensations, each moment, we give ourselves the chance of greater freedom of choice – we can break down the patterns of our past.
As we practise mindfulness, our unhelpful and negative thoughts will intrude – this is ok – we let them go by and in noticing them we can bring our attention back to the present moment.
As we learn to pay attention to our feelings, thoughts, sensations in the present moment, we become able to observe ourselves and become more accepting. We learn to notice our thoughts, but choose not to engage with them. Ultimately, we learn to choose how we respond to our thoughts, feelings, rather than just reacting to them automatically (mindlessness).
Life will always have ups and down. Practising mindfulness as mindful meditation and cultivating mindful behaviour, allows us to deal with these in a clear and calm manner, to reduce physical pain, and to enrich our life experience.
Remember – when we are mindfully in the present moment, we are, in that moment of time, free of our need to look at the past for our identity and of looking to the future for our fulfilment. This then, is truly liberating.
“Do not look back, my friend; no-one knows how the world began.
Do not fear the future; nothing lasts forever.
If you dwell on the past or the future, you will miss the moment.”
(From a book of poems by Rumi, a 13th century Sufi poet)
So we see that mindfulness is not a new idea. But it is ever more needed in our cluttered, technological, and multi-tasking lives.
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