What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.
Paying attention “on purpose”
First of all, mindfulness involves paying attention “on purpose”. Mindfulness involves a conscious direction of our awareness. We sometimes talk about “mindfulness” and “awareness” as if they were interchangeable terms, but that’s not a good habit to get into. A person may be aware they're irritable, but that wouldn’t mean they were being mindful of their irritability. In order to be mindful a person would be purposefully aware of oneself, not just vaguely and habitually aware. Knowing that you are eating is not the same as eating mindfully.
Consider the example of eating and look at it a bit further. When we are purposefully aware of eating, we are consciously being aware of the process of eating. We’re deliberately noticing the sensations and our responses to those sensations. We’re noticing the mind wandering, and when it does wander we purposefully bring our attention back.
When we’re eating unmindfully we may in theory be aware of what we’re doing, but we’re probably thinking about a hundred and one other things at the same time, and we may also be watching TV, talking, or reading — or even all three! So a very small part of our awareness is absorbed with eating, and we may be only barely aware of the physical sensations and even less aware of our thoughts and emotions.
Because we’re only dimly aware of our thoughts, they wander in an unrestricted way. There’s no conscious attempt to bring our attention back to our eating. There’s no purposefulness.
This purposefulness is a very important part of mindfulness. Having the purpose of staying with our experience, whether that’s the breath, or a particular emotion, or something as simple as eating, means that we are actively shaping the mind.
Working with a therapist trained in mindfulness is a great way to learn how to be more mindful of your life and the thoughts and emotions your are experiencing. Those who are able to understanding how they interact with the world around them will experience a greater sense of well-being, balance and success in relationships, work and self-esteem.
Courtesy Jon Kabat-Zinn