Mindfulness is a term that’s super popular right now. Everyone from yoga teachers, alternative healers, psychologists and even doctors are talking about it. But what is mindfulness about? How can it benefit your mental wellbeing? Let’s explore…
Simply put, mindfulness is the act of being 100% present and fully aware of your current experience, without passing any judgement or analysis. It is recognising the present moment as the only thing that’s real, and that your life is happening right now. It is both extremely simple yet amazingly complex.
A Buddhist Perspective
What is mindfulness about in relation to Buddhism? Mindfulness was taught over 2500 years ago by the Buddha. The Buddha didn’t call it mindfulness, he used the Pali word Sati (Sanskrit Smrti), which means ‘to remember.’ I think that perfectly answers the question: what is mindfulness about? It is about remembering who you really are, and what life really is.
To remember is such a beautiful description of mindfulness. To remember that we are divine cosmic consciousness and sacred universal energy, and we are here, right now, in this exquisite moment, experiencing this precious gift of human life. I think that’s a wonderful thing to remember every day.
The Three As
Mindfulness can be broken down into three separate sections to be more easily understood:
Awareness – This is referring to conscious, intentional awareness of one’s current experience.
Attention – Focused attention on the experience of the present moment. Attention is simply mental energy used positively.
Attitude – How do we choose to react to our current present moment experience? Yes, reactions are choices. We can choose to have a positive attitude encompassing these three states:
Acceptance of what is, without judgement.
Kindness to ourselves and any other beings that enter our field of consciousness, whether that is in real life or thought-form.
Curiosity of our current experience, as when we are curious we are open-minded and open-hearted, rather than being closed-minded and suspicious or sceptical.
How Does Mindfulness Relate to Mental Health?
“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.”
What is mindfulness about in relation to mental health? Eckart Tolle teaches that Now is the only thing that’s real. The future and the past are simply projections of the mind. He also demonstrates that pain stems from not being fully present in the Now. It comes from thinking about the future or the past, which don’t exist. Therefore, most of the time we are suffering we are doing so needlessly, based on something that isn’t real.
Relating this wisdom to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression can help to ease the symptoms dramatically. Many times there is a chemical imbalance that is responsible for mental illnesses such as depression and bipolar disorder and that is very real.
The Negativity Snowball
But, in the anxious or depressed mind, things can quickly spiral out of control. When the illness catches onto a negative or painful thought it magnifies them, adding on layer after layer of extra negativity until, like a snowball rolling down a hill, the thought has become many times it’s original size.
You can use mindfulness to prevent this from happening. When a negative thought arises, you can breathe and ground back into the present moment. Think only about what is happening right at that time, remembering who you are and what is real – only what’s happening right Now. This exercise helps me to prevent that negative snowball from rolling away down the hill.
Mindfulness Every Day
What is mindfulness about in a practical sense? How can you use it every day to improve your mental wellbeing? Here are some of my favourite techniques.
1: Just Sitting Meditation
This is the ultimate mindfulness meditation. It is beautiful and simple, yet requires some practice to get good results. It involves sitting in meditation and focusing your awareness on your present experience. Head over to this page for detailed instructions and to my Insight Timer guided meditation if you’d like to be guided through the practice.
2: Remember Regularly
Get into the habit of coming back to the present moment regularly throughout the day. At first you’ll need to set a timer to remind yourself but as you practice with consistency you’ll start doing it naturally. My watch tells me to breathe mindfully for a minute several times throughout the day.
You can also do it at times that happen several times every day no matter what, such as mealtimes, when you use the bathroom, have a cup of tea, or brush your teeth. Before each activity, take 30-60 seconds to be 100% aware of your experience right Now, and try to be 100% present during too.
3: Mindful Journalling
Every morning and evening spend five minutes doing mindful journalling. Mindful journalling differs from regular journalling because you’re not writing down your thoughts and responses to things, you’re simply writing down everything that is happening in your current experience.
You can include sensations you are feeling (I have a pain in my side), thoughts that come into your head (this exercise is stupid), as well as sounds you can hear, aromas you can smell, the things you see around you. Anything that is part of your present experience.
I hope this article has started to answer the question what is mindfulness about and you now have a foundational understanding. The best way to understand anything is to practice. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below and I’ll be delighted to help.