Mindfulness teaches you to tune into your mind and body in a way that is non-critical. Through meditation, it trains you to pay attention to, and become aware of, your thoughts, emotions and sensations. Prof Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is a founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic, and who has been at the forefront of research in this area, has defined it as “paying attention on purposed, moment by moment, without judging.
You will almost certainly find that your mind automatically wonders through all manner of thoughts. You might think about how things have gone in the past, or how they might have been different. You might think about how things will be in the future. You might plan or you might worry. Naturally, these automatic thoughts might include those that express sadness, self-pity, anger, revenge and craving. They will, in turn, serve to reinforce the related emotions that they bring up, and are likely to be at the very heart of any distress or suffering you might experience.
You will find that most of your thoughts will tend to involve either the past or the future. However, the past no longer exists and the future will remain just a fantasy - at least until it occurs. This means that the only moment we have, and indeed the only moment we are actually able to truly experience, is the present one. Despite this, it is the one moment we seem most likely to habitually avoid.
Instead of being present, we tend to “space out” on our ever-active thoughts. We generally wish things to be different to the way they are at any given time, and we are constantly “swept away” by a continuous stream of ideas, feelings, concerns, and responsibilities. With a Mindfulness practice, you can become more concerned with, and accepting of, what is happening right now. It does not stop you thinking about the past or the future; it simply means that when your mind focuses on places or times other than on the here and the now, it is able to do so mindfully and with intention.
Meditation is central to Mindfulness training. When, during meditation, you find that your thoughts or sensations continually take you away from your present-moment experience, you learn to simply notice them for what they are, and then, each time, gently bring yourself back to the now. Becoming more aware of your thoughts, feelings and sensations, in a way that suspends judgment and self-criticism, can produce really surprising results.
Many Mindfulness practitioners have reported improved moods and reduced levels of stress. Others have discovered new inner strengths and resources that have helped them to make wiser decisions around many aspects of their lives, including their health. In Mindfulness, there is, however, no striving for particular outcomes, nor is there even a need to become particularly good at meditation.
At first glance, the proposition of Mindfulness might perhaps seem just a little too simplistic. However, with its roots deeply buried in millennia-old Buddhist practice and philosophy, it is an ancient concept that has truly stood the test-of-time. Now, it has also come to be integrated into current psychological understanding and knowledge. Indeed, it has established itself as a very modern, secular, evidence-based approach to a variety of prevalent conditions.
Although, it would seem that almost anyone might significantly benefit from adopting his or her own personal practice, a Mindfulness approach can be particularly helpful for a number of specific conditions, including chronic stress, recurrent depression and physical discomfort or pain. Please read about these particular applications. Alternatively, feel free to contact me for further information on Mindfulness or simply make an appointment to come to see me.
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“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
Thích Nhất Hạnh, Stepping into Freedom: Rules of Monastic Practice for Novices