What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a quality that allows us to maintain a sense of calm and inner peace in the midst of a busy world. It helps us to nourish our connection to a deep stillness that is not disturbed by the pushes and pulls of daily life.
To develop this kind of stability and calm, we learn to bring our attention to what is going on in the present moment.
Rather than getting caught up in the past or future, we become aware of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and perceptions as they are in the moment.
“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now, without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”
Often, when we judge a thought or feeling to be uncomfortable, painful or difficult, we push it away. Unfortunately, this tendency just creates more tension. With mindfulness, we learn to meet whatever perceptions are arising for us moment-to-moment with acceptance rather than resistance. Allowing things to be just as we find them involves self compassion, softening and a gentle approach. This is not easy but is always possible.
When we use mindfulness, we are able to take a step back and see our thoughts and experiences from the ‘outside’ as well as from the ‘inside’. This gives us space to see clearly what is present, before we choose how to react. It takes practice but it is the practice of turning to our experience with kindness, rather than a goal-orientated type of practice.
Mindfulness helps us to ease stress, relax a busy mind and release tension in the body.
When we are mindful, we are able to pause and make decisions from a place of balance and stability, rather than out of worry or stress. We are not so easily knocked off course by strong emotions when they inevitably arise because we know how to manage them in a way that makes us feel balanced and healthy.
Mindfulness also helps us to connect to joy and playfulness and to live with a greater sense of lightness and ease. It allows us to notice and take pleasure in the small wonders that we encounter every day such as the sensation of sunshine on our skin or the sound of birdsong.
There is a rapidly growing body of research which suggests that mindfulness can have a positive effect on many aspects of physical and mental health. Studies show that mindfulness can:
- Boost the immune system
- Reduce stress
- Help fight depression
- Improve memory and emotion regulation
- Foster empathy, compassion and altruism
- Enhance creative thinking
- Improve relationships
- Reduce perception of pain
Mindfulness and society
Mindfulness helps us to see clearly which of our behaviours and habits are helpful and healthy and which are not. Just as when a lake is clear and calm, it is easy to observe the ripples produced by a single falling leaf; when our minds are calm, we can notice the effect that an activity has on us. For example, we might observe the effect that spending time on our phone or being outside in nature has on our mind and body. We can then make choices about how we spend our time based on these observations.
The practice can therefore have an impact upon the choices we make as members of our communities and consumers. In this way, mindfulness can have an effect on the people around us and the society that we live in. It can be a gentle, kind but powerful way to live.
Mindfulness and Interconnection
When we are busy and feel like the treadmill of modern life is wearing us down, we can easily begin to feel isolated and lonely. Stress has a tendency to narrow our focus and making us feel cut us off from others and from the world around us.
Mindfulness can help us to recognise our connections to others and to the rest of the natural world. Many mindfulness practices help us reconnect to the feeling of being a part of the world, of belonging, and help us to open our hearts to others.
Mindfulness can help to bring people together and challenge the separation we often feel from each other and from nature, supporting us instead to realign ourselves with the natural world and live connected, sustainable and happy lives.