What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness was originally developed in ancient times, and can be found in Eastern and Western cultures. Mindfulness is a translation of the ancient Indian word Sati that means awareness, attention and remembering:

  • Awareness. This is an aspect of being human that makes you conscious of your experiences. Without awareness, nothing would exist for you.

  • Attention. Attention is a focused awareness; mindfulness training develops your ability to move and sustain your attention wherever and however you choose.

  • Remembering. This aspect of mindfulness is about remembering to pay attention to your experience from moment to moment. Being mindful is easy to forget. The word remember originally comes from the Latin re ‘again’ and memorari ‘be mindful of’.

Say that you want to practice mindfulness to help you cope with stress. At work, you think about your forthcoming presentation and begin to feel stressed and nervous. By becoming aware of this, you remember to focus your mindful attention to your own breathing rather than constantly worrying. Feeling your breath with a sense of warmth and gentleness helps slowly to calm you down.

Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn, who first developed mindfulness in a therapeutic setting, says: ‘Mindfulness can be cultivated by paying attention in a specific way, that is, in the present moment, and as non-reactively, non-judgmentally and openheartedly as possible.’

You can break down the meaning even further:

  • Paying attention. To be mindful, you need to pay attention, whatever you choose to attend to.

  • Present moment. The reality of being in the here and now means you just need to be aware of the way things are, as they are now. Your experience is valid and correct just as it is.

  • Non-reactively. Normally, when you experience something, you automatically react to that experience according to your past conditioning. Mindfulness encourages you to respond to your experience rather than react to thoughts. A reaction is automatic and gives you no choice; a response is deliberate and considered action.

  • Non-judgmentally. The temptation is to judge experience as good or bad, something you like or dislike. Letting go of judgments helps you to see things as they are rather than through the filter of your personal judgments based on past conditioning.

  • Openheartedly. Mindfulness isn’t just an aspect of mind. Mindfulness is of the heart as well. To be open-hearted is to bring a quality of kindness, compassion, warmth and friendliness to your experience. For example, if you notice yourself thinking ‘I’m useless at meditation,’ you discover how to let go of this critical thought and gently turn your attention back to the focus of your meditation, whatever that may be.

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