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What is mindfulness?

Natalie Snooke - Friday, April 29, 2016

Mindfulness. I well remember the time in my early 20's when I first made the discovery. When I realised I could 'observe' my own mind without getting involved in its story. 

I was at a communications skills workshop with well-known facilitator Rachel Green, who had us in pairs talking and listening. One person had to talk while the other person had to listen and at the same time, watch their own internal dialogue and reactions. As I was listening to my partner, I realised that I could also see what was going-on with my thoughts and reactions without getting caught up in them or in the other person's story. It was one of those light-bulb moments. 

Up until that point in my life, it hadn't really dawned on me that I could actually 'watch' my own mind. 

It was like I had discovered a new way of being with myself - not that I had any idea of the significance of this discovery at the time, I just thought it was pretty cool! And later as an adult, this realisation would deepen, become the cornerstone of my life and lead to tremendous growth and joy, as well as my fair-share of frustrations along the way.

I had discovered the art of mindfulness - the capacity of human beings to be mindful or self-aware. 

We all have an inner-observer. A part of us that is simply aware or conscious of what is going on around us and, that can also be aware of whatever is going on within us. It is widely accepted amongst scientists that the capacity to be self-aware is what distinguishes humans from other animals, yet its significance and importance is often misunderstood and under-valued, especially when it comes to our happiness and sense of fulfillment in life.

In fact, mindfulness is the essential ingredient of creativity, wisdom, authentic happiness and living to our highest potential. 

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness has several aspects to it. As we make our way through life it means to:

  • be aware of our thoughts, feelings, senses and physical experiences, moment to moment;
  • pay attention to our immediate surroundings;
  • be at ease and allow whatever is happening and;
  • be kind and intentional in our thoughts, words and actions.
The concept of mindfulness originates from the ancient Buddhist tradition and the Pali word sati meaning to remember. It is understood that without having some foundations of mindfulness, something to anchor our attention to, we simply 'forget' to be present. And this leads us to suffer and be unhappy.

Although mindfulness is a simple approach, and most people can understand it, it isn't easy and takes effort to put into practice. 

Unfortunately our conditioning and our habits, the things that we do mindlessly, get in the way. We've trained ourselves in unhealthy ways - with the help of things like Facebook, Thermomixes and a materialistic, complex and technologically-driven world - to have a fairly scattered quality of attention. Somehow, we've convinced ourselves that we feel good when we multi-task and get as many things done as quickly as we can, whilst often paying little attention to the details and to what we are thinking or how we are feeling in the moment. 

Because we tend to be two-steps ahead and focussing on the future (or 'shoulding' about the past) rather than in 'the now' we therefore 'miss out' on a lot of what's actually going on inside us. This means that we can't access our creativity, we aren't able to be in our hearts and fully connect with others, we miss the warning signs that our body isn't coping or all too often, we feel like we don't know who we are anymore. I witness many people who suffer from one or more of these symptoms - also known as a mid-life crisis.

Is this making sense?

Consider how mindful you are in a typical day. If you:
  • spend most of your time remembering or regretting about what you 'should' have had, said or felt and/or;
  • spend most of your time thinking, planning, hoping or worrying about what you're going to have, do, say or feel like 'next' and/or;
  • drive somewhere but once you arrive you cannot remember anything about the journey you've just taken and/or;
  • find yourself forgetting someone's name after you've just been introduced to them only moments before, then this would indicate that you are normal! But that you're not paying full attention in the present moment - you're not being as mindful as you could.
Mindfulness is not about perfection.

Sure, being mindful one hundered percent of the time is a challenging task and we are not seeking some impossible perfection! Part of the paradox of mindfulness is that it's about accepting and allowing ourselves and life to be just as it is, warts and all.

With mindfulness, there's a middle-path to explore, a way for us to create balance between accepting things as they are and putting in meaningful effort to create greater ease and harmony. Most of us would find we'd feel more naturally happy and satisfied with ourselves, others, our work and our life if we were more self-aware, more allowing and more mindful. 

The benefits of mindfulness.

Plenty of research compiled at the American Mindfulness Research Association shows that mindfulness reduces stress at work, improves heart health, enables us to better manage our food intake and improves the quality of our relationships. Being mindful or not can be the difference between: being stressed or being comfortable; feeling anxious or feeling at ease and; suffering in life or embracing life as it is.

When we become more mindful, we gain clarity about what's really important to us and we're able to peel away some of the unnecessary complexities of life. 

One of the best ways to cultivate mindfulness is through a regular meditation or yoga practice. These kinds of body-centred practice trains us to remain present and anchored to our body and our breath, as well as to be allowing and kind to ourselves, moment by moment. And anyone can learn these skills.

To learn more about mindfulness and how to practise it in daily life, we recommend starting with our Beginner's Meditation Courseand Beginner's Yoga Courses, run throughout the year at our centre in Melville.

Over time, mindfulness allows us to suffer less and to love more. It leads us inwards, back to our heart, to the greatest ease and joy that's available to any human being. Are you open to it?

Wishing you well in the moment!
Natalie
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