Mindfulness is Both a Practice and a Way of Being
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is in the news lately with great claims for its beneficial effects on physical and emotional health. But what is it? I prefer the simple description of mindfulness as a way to “see things as they are.” That simple definition is a good description of the process of mindfulness, but fails to address the question of how does it occur.
Mindfulness As a Way of Being
“Seeing things as they are” means perceiving without the built-in biases and reaction patters we all have. Our experience is constantly filtered and modified by our nervous system and what most of us call “the mind” – a collective pattern of experience, training, emotional tendencies, and unresolved issues. Being mindful helps to bypass much of this coloration of our experience
Mindfulness As a Technique
The practice of mindfulness (the technique) is blissfully simple to describe. It is a matter of sustaining our attention upon some object, typically the breath or movement (walking). It is not so easy to do however. The mind is constantly chattering and diverting our attention. It takes practice to be able to sustain our attention on simply noticing when we are breathing in, and when we are breathing out.
Why It’s Hard to Learn Mindfulness From a Book
There a great many good books available about mindfulness. My favorite is A Gradual Awakening by Stephen Levine. The process is easy to describe. In my experience the single biggest obstacle to learning mindfulness meditation is the attitude of the student. Most of us simply try to hard to control our attention, and that effort is itself the obstacle. It is best to learn the technique from a skilled teacher who can help you avoid mental obstacles.
Mindfulness is Not a Panacea
As mentioned earlier mindfulness practices are in the news because they are very effective in promoting physical and emotional health. It is not a panacea. It does not fix everything. If you are having bothersome physical or emotional symptoms consult the appropriate physician or mental health professional.