What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is becoming increasingly recognized in Western psychology as an effective means of enhancing one’s sense of fulfillment, self-awareness and emotional intelligence, and decrease stress and destructive emotive, cognitive and behavioural processes. Mindfulness is a type of energy which helps us to become aware of what is going on both around us and within ourselves. Contrary to the common misconception that mindfulness is meditation, mindfulness in fact refers to a mental state of complete awareness, focus and openness, and is achieved through being entirely present in the here and now.
An ancient practice which can be found in a vast range of Eastern philosophies such as Buddhism, Taoism and Yoga, the art of mindfulness can be mastered through implementation of conscious living. Mindfulness is about awakening oneself, connecting with oneself, and appreciating the fullness of each and every moment. This requires a person to purposefully place their undivided attention on the present moment in an open, flexible and non-judgmental way.
Involving the act of being completely aware, mindfulness requires you to focus all of your sensory awareness solely on the act that you are doing. One can practice mindfulness through breathing exercises and meditation, physical movement and exercise such as walking, dancing and stretching, artistic expression such as painting, drawing or singing, and even eating.
Are You Living in a “State of Distraction”?
According to Vietnamese-born Buddhist Monk and Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, in his 2007 talk “Be Free Where You Are” at the Maryland Correctional Institute, many people live their entire life in a “state of distraction” where their bodies may be in one place, but their mind is somewhere entirely different – whether that be in the past or future. They can be so consumed in this state of distraction of the past or the future, that they are incapable of being present in the here and now where life is actually available.
Getting caught up in one’s worries, despair, work, projects, regrets of the past and or fears of the future, prevents a person from being free. Freedom is something that we need to cultivate for ourselves, within ourselves, and is the key to happiness. This freedom is the freedom from anger, anguish, despair, stress or afflictions. By creating freedom within yourself, you will then be able to assist the people around you to do the same. Nhat Hahn (2007) implores people to free themselves from this state of distraction through the act of mindfulness.
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
Practicing mindfulness on a daily basis enables a person to “transform their lives and nourish their compassion and forgiveness” (Nhat Hahn, 2007, p. 7).
Practicing the act of mindfulness in your everyday life will assist you to:
- Be completely present in the here and now
- Heighten your self-awareness
- Decrease judgmental behaviour
- Become more connected with yourself, others, and your surrounding world
- Become aware of the things in your life that you are avoiding
- Decrease stress
- Become more balanced and less emotionally volatile
- Experience inner peace, tranquility and calmness
- Develop self-compassion and self-acceptance
- Increase feelings of wellness, positivity and wholeness
- Experience unfavorable feelings and / or thoughts in a safe way
- Becomes less disturbed, reactive and affected by unfavorable experiences
- Learn and accept that everything is impermanent
- Learn and accept that everything changes; that feelings and thoughts come and go like the weather or the seasons
In order to live a mindful way of life, make sure you incorporate peace, silence and nature in your everyday routine. Nhat Hanh (2007) warns that without mindfulness in one’s everyday life, anger and despair is fed by observing or absorbing things in our surroundings that are “highly toxic” (p.8). Carefully select the environments that you surround yourself with, whether that is in your work, social or personal life. Nhat Hanh (2007) recommends refraining from ingesting negativity, and advises to instead, “choose to be in touch with what is wonderful, refreshing and healing within yourself and around you” (p. 8). By immersing yourself in positive, harmonious activities in a peaceful setting, mastering the art of mindfulness will prove an effortless practice.
Thich Nhat Hanh (2007). Be Free Where You Are: A talk given at the Maryland Correctional Institute.