What is Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to one’s moment-to-moment experience in an observant, non-judgemental way.  Many of us spend much of our day planning, reflecting, worrying, ruminating, day-dreaming or simply thinking about something other than what we are doing.  As a result, we can miss out on getting our full “moment’s worth” of the present experience.

An integral part of learning mindfulness is meditation practice.  It allows us an opportunity to cultivate the skills needed to pay attention to the present moment and to begin to relate to difficulty in a different way.

How does Mindfulness help with emotional concerns

Mindfulness training teaches people to pay attention to their thoughts, feelings and physical sensations with a gentle, curious attitude.  We are often unaware of the thoughts that cross our minds or we assume that the thoughts we think are facts.  For example “I have to get this all done today” or “I’ll never reach that goal”.  Left unnoticed or unchallenged, these thoughts dramatically impact our moods and our actions. Mindfulness is simply about bringing attention and awareness to the habits of the mind including the automatic thoughts and feelings that arise. 

When we experience difficulty, pain or unpleasantness in our lives, a common response is to brace against it, push it away or try to fix it.  This can be a helpful strategy in the physical world – if eating jalapeno peppers gives you heartburn, you pass on the salsa.  But when it comes to difficult emotions and thoughts, resisting them can actually increase our suffering. 

Pushing away difficult thoughts doesn’t work very well.  When I ask people to think of anything except a white bear, it’s often only a few seconds before they smile guiltily.  When we tell the mind not to think of something, we think about it.  And this situation of wanting our thoughts to be different from the way they are is often followed by self-judgement and more suffering. 

Mindfulness allows a different way of being with difficult thoughts and feelings.  To simply allow the feelings to be present and to experience them. 

The meditation practice that is done in mindfulness training serves as an opportunity to explore a new way of relating to difficulty.  When pain, boredom, mind-wandering come up in meditation practice, we see if it’s possible to relate to them in a different, gentler way. 

When we view our thoughts and feelings from the perspective of an observer we notice that even negative ones are only temporary and not always as true as we might think.  By becoming aware of them we can make a conscious choice about how to respond to them.

Who can benefit from Mindfulness?

Mindfulness can be beneficial for individuals experiencing depression, anxiety or stress.  It has also been shown to help with chronic pain, headaches, fibromyalgia and many other physical concerns.