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You may be familiar with mindfulness, or be new to this concept. You are certainly likely to have heard of it.
Many people and organisations worldwide have benefitted from mindfulness; there is strong research evidence to show that it can reduce stress, anxiety, the impact of recurrent depression, anger, burnout, and management of chronic pain or illness.
It has also been shown to increase concentration, memory and creativity.
Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism, but many view it as a form of 'mental training'. Jon Kabat-Zinn, who first developed the therapeutic use of mindfulness within healthcare, described it as simply...
"paying attention in a particular way,
in the present moment,
and non-judgementally" (1996).
Mindfulness involves becoming intentionally aware of our moment-to-moment experience with a calm and clear mind, and with an attitude of acceptance and kindness toward ourselves. This is in contrast to how we may spend much of our lives - on 'autopilot' - rushing from place to place and reacting to situations and experiences in well-used, familiar, but sometimes unhelpful ways which can lead to feelings of stress.
Our minds can feel very busy, and are very good at time-travelling - rehashing what has happened in the past and worrying about what may happen in the future. Before we know it, our minds can take us off to all sorts of places, leaving us with feelings such as guilt, anger, stress or depression. I often liken this to being on a boat - one minute we can be anchored in calm waters, the next we have lost our anchor and drifted off to the choppy waters of the past or the future.
Being mindful offers us an alternative. By making a conscious effort to become aware of the present moment, we can notice the fullness of our experience (our thoughts, bodily sensations and feelings), and we can learn to relate to them in a different way. This can reduce difficult feelings through a sense of greater choice and control.
Mindfulness is not about clearing the mind, or never thinking about the past or future. Instead, we can learn to notice where our mind may wander to. We can 'observe' the to-ing and fro-ing of sensations, feelings and thoughts as they arise, stay and fade away. We become curious about our experiences and the 'layers' we can add, such as 'this feels horrible', 'I can't do this', or 'this always happens', for example.
Through mindfulness practice we can learn to stay with and 'soften' to what is present, rather than getting caught up in our thoughts and feelings, trying to solve, avoid or push away problems.
We can develop this mindful attitude by learning and practicing meditations such as awareness of our breath and body, awareness of our physical sensations, and exercises involving becoming aware of our bodies as we move. We can also learn to develop greater awareness and focus within our everyday lives, such as eating and walking mindfully. As a result, we can rediscover how much we miss in our lives, and reconnect with our experiences and those around us.
Being mindful will not stop life happening around us - situations will occur whether they are invited or not. Being mindful can allow us to relate to each new situation and experience in a way that allows us to manage what arises.
As John Kabat-Zinn said, "you can't stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf!"