Basically mindfulness is the ability to be present and fully engaged with whatever we’re doing - free from distraction or judgment, and aware of our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them.
By becoming more aware of ourselves and teaching our minds to be present, we enable ourselves to live more mindfully - living in the present, taking a breath, in control of our reactions, thoughts, and feelings - which is particularly helpful when faced with challenging circumstances or difficult situations.
If you’ve ever wondered how many times a day you're in a mindful state? There’s actually a short questionnaire researchers use to measure mindfulness called the ‘Mindful Attention Awareness Score’, that you can take to see how mindful you are - the higher the score, the greater your ability to be mindful.
If you scored lower than you’d like? There’s no need to worry… It’s simply a sign that you may benefit from some mindfulness meditation practice.
Here’s the thing that many people find confusing about mindfulness: It’s not a temporary state of mind that is present during meditation and then vanishes for the rest of the day. Mindfulness is a way of living in which - when we remember - we are able to step back and be in the present moment in any situation.
Mindfulness doesn’t eliminate stress or other difficulties; instead, by becoming aware of unpleasant thoughts and emotions that arise because of challenging situations, we have more choice in how to handle them in the moment - and a better chance of reacting calmly and empathetically when faced with stress or challenges.
Of course, practicing mindfulness does not mean we never get angry - rather it allows us to be more thoughtful in how we want to respond, whether that's calmly and empathetically or perhaps, occasionally with measured anger.
Meditation is the training ground for learning mindfulness. At first, we meditate to become familiar with the here and now for a limited period of time. Over time, however, regularly practicing mindfulness helps us develop the ability to be present throughout the day, every day.
The current hype around mindfulness meditation has a lot of studies to back it up. People who incorporate it into their lives often report heightened levels of happiness, patience, acceptance, and compassion, as well as lower levels of stress, frustration, and sadness.
If you’re just beginning to practice, a guided mindfulness meditation - led by a teacher in person or via an app like Headspace - might be a good place to start. Having a trusted, experienced teacher guide you through the basic steps can be key to getting the most out of the experience.
Most guided mindfulness meditations follow a similar format: the teacher explains how the mind behaves during meditation, leads you through a particular meditation technique, and suggests how to integrate this technique into your everyday life.
Though there are countless mindfulness techniques - each rooted in a different tradition and with a unique focus - most have one thing in common: they’re aimed at cultivating two essential components, calmness and clarity, with the intention of remaining focused and becoming more aware.
So how do you remember to be mindful when you’re not meditating?
At the end of your meditation, try to recognise how your mind feels and then make an intention to carry that feeling into the rest of your day. Some people find it helpful to form a clear idea of what they are going to do next - maybe take a shower or get a cup of coffee - and perform their next task with the same level of awareness they experienced during meditation.
It doesn’t matter what you do after meditation, as long as you look for opportunities throughout your day in which to recognise the space and mindfulness you experienced during your practice.
Headspace is a great app that you can download to your phone and begin your mindful journey.
What mindful techniques do you use or have you found helpful?
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