Mindfulness – So What?

Most have heard of mindfulness while few truly practice it Mindfulness comes to us in two forms: the spiritual/meditative practice or as a tool in self examination and behavior control.

The online brain trust Wikipedia.com, the Free Encyclopedia, describes mindfulness this way: “…an awareness of one's thoughts, actions or motivations.” straight forward, but not particularly helpful. Buddahism describes it as one having the correct mind, a path toward liberation. More to the point is the inclusion of the practice of mindfulness in western medicine. Here it is referred to as meditation, or the mind/body relationship.

Mindfulness is an awareness of our inner most psychological events occurring from moment to moment. It is the art of putting aside the past or the future for the present, being fully aware of what is going on within you and without you - right now. Another way of viewing mindfulness can be summed up in this thought: mindfulness is not freedom from the storm, but peace within the storm.

The aim of mindfulness is to enhance the awareness of your mind so that you are able to be proactive toward events rather than reacting to them. You do this by practicing the art of becoming aware of where the attention of your mind is focused. Practicing mindfulness allows you to become increasingly more able to recognize and accept feelings as they come and go instead of trying to push them away. It is when acceptance is the chosen path of the mind that one can begin to change the mind.

The core skill of mindfulness is teaching you to recognize your thought patterns. Doing this enables you to break away from the false constructs of your mind; those words which are most troublesome to you. These false constructs are what I call Big Lies that you have come to accept as true in spite of all evidence to the contrary. It is your response to the Big Lies stored in your mind that creates hurtful and painful reactions. When practicing mindfulness you become able to redefine the false constructs present in your mind. To reinterpret how you experience certain psychological events.

Mindfulness teaches us that you are separate from the event. If your spouse or boss yells at you they are yelling at their understanding of something you did. You don’t have respond in a defensive manner, In fact you don’t have to respond at all. Through mindfulness you learn to see events as something that occurs out there, outside of who you are. Once an event is seen this way you have the ability to interpret that event as you see fit.

An example is this all-to-familiar statement: “I really should think before I speak.” Yet how often do you simply blurt out the first thing that comes to mind? Mindfulness allows you to see what you’re about to say before saying it. One way to accomplish mindfulness is to see yourself thinking by using your internal “third eye.” By using mindfulness you can choose what action you will take rather than simply acting without thinking.

How do you achieve mindfulness? The first step is for you to have a clear understanding of the three facets that facilitate mindfulness: acceptance of what is occurring in your mind; recognizing that your thoughts are just that, thoughts; and, recognizing that you experience events in a context.

Acceptance is the acknowledgement of what is occurring in your mind. Once you have acknowledged a thought, look at it for what it is, a thought only occurring in your mind. Finally, you need to recognize that all you really have any control over is your response to a given situation. You do not have control over the event itself. This “self in context” frees you to see events for what they are, happenings outside of your mind. You are separate from the event.

One of the things a person practicing mindfulness learns quickly is that life is experienced in the here and now. The past is gone and the future has yet to arrive. Certainly there are lessons to be learned from the past and plans to be made based upon the future, but when your focus is solely on the past or the future you lose contact with the present. It is only in the present that you can effect change. Pardon the clique, but right now is the first day of the rest of your life.

Mindfulness is focusing on internal and external experiences as they occur at this moment: recognizing the relationship between your internal and the external world. Think about a beautiful summer day. Your mind enjoys the experience, focusing on each of the elements which contribute to making this spring day something special. The sight of green foliage, the feel of the warmth of the sun, that unique aroma, the sounds of birds chirping, and the taste of chilled lemonade. Each of these sensations occur in the moment and it is in the moment that they have the most value or meaning to you. It is the experience of the moment that makes the summer day what it is.

Being in contact with the present moment is both easy and difficult. It is easy to turn your attention to the moment, but difficult to sustain that focus. Our thoughts take us to places other than the moment. This is why I like to refer to mindfulness as an art. The art of remaining focused and the key to mastering any art is practice.

Avoiding mindfulness can be likened to being trapped in cement. Imagine you’re being thrown into a vat of liquefied cement: your thoughts. As time goes by the cement hardens. For a while you can move about, but as the cement hardens it becomes harder and harder to move. Without mindfulness this is how your mind begins to react to external events. You lose contact with the here and now. You soon find yourself responding to these events as though you were being directed by a malfunctioning auto pilot. You’re suddenly spinning out of control as events take over your life.

I remember a television commercial that recently caught my eye. There was a series of vignettes depicting a woman and her day-to-day life, her interactions with her significant other, her children, friends, etc. In each vignette it was made clear that she was in the midst of treatment for cancer. At the end of the commercial came this message: “I have cancer, it doesn’t have me.” Here was the end result of mindfulness in practice.

Another way of understanding mindfulness is to see it as our inner “third eye.” Let me give you an example of how you may use it. Suppose that you’re attending a conference. During the conference you find yourself socializing with a group of people. Someone in the group says something that triggers a humorous response in your mind when suddenly you recognize that that fleeting reaction, while funny, is slightly inappropriate. Do you blurt it out anyway or do you keep your mouth shut? It is in that moment between thinking the thought and opening your mouth that hopefully mindfulness is present. Simply put, it is your internal third eye which keeps you from blurting out your first thought.
I strongly recommend practicing mindfulness whenever possible. The technique that I suggest is for you to put your mind in a state of meditation. Sit in a comfortable chair without interruption. Then allow yourself to see yourself thinking. Walk around in your mind, seeing yourself thinking from different viewpoints. Pay attention to your mind while in the chair. Focus on the moment, on seeing yourself thinking in the moment. Observe yourself in context with the moment. Sustain this self view for as long as you can. Once your attention is diverted try to remember what the experience was like. This is mindfulness.

Mindfulness takes practice. It is only through practice that you can begin to free yourself from those destructive psychological events from the past or worrisome anxiety over the future that controls your life. Mindfulness is on the cutting edge of ways for you to experience life. If you remember only one thing, let it be this: you can only change or influence those events occurring in the here and now. Everything else is simply tilting at windmills. It’s this sleeping giant, mindfulness that may well be the next wave of the future.

You’re being mindful when:

1. Your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and expectations are focused on the here and now.
2. When you can calmly encounter events as they occur.
3. When you’re able to view your experiences in context.

Author's Bio: 

As a retired social worker/therapist the author has worked with people having many different psychological pathologies. My work incorporated Acceptance & Commitmnt Therapy (ACT) as a treatment modality. An important facet of ACT is the use of mindfulness. Once retired I wrote self-help guide which translated the theraputic model into a phjilosophy for living life. This article is a small part of that guide.