What is Mindfulness Practice?

Jon Kabat-Zinn, who designed the well-researched Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programs, states the working definition of mindfulness as: The practice of placing attention on an object on purpose in the present moment.

That is all. Well – not quite.

It is placing attention on an object on purpose in the present moment and without judgment. This means that in addition to attending, we practice accepting our experience – whether we like it in that moment or not.

The attention part teaches us to have a strong and stable mind. The acceptance part teaches us to be flexible with what occurs in life. Mindfulness practice is so simple that we often feel that we must be doing it wrong; that this couldn’t possibly be “it.” But it’s funny how we come to learn so much about ourselves through this simple activity.

  • We get to see what we like to think about or what we often think about – like it or not.
  • We get to see the judgments we make about ourselves and the tone of voice we use when we are displeased with ourselves once we notice that we are not following the simple instruction to place attention on an object.

The “practice” of mindfulness begins to take on meaning as we develop, not only ability to stay with the object of meditation for longer periods of time, but the ability to let go of judgment when we don’t stay. We begin to understand how to relax the mind when we let go of expectations.  And, wouldn’t you know it – when we start to let go of judgments and expectations of ourselves, we begin to let them go with respect to others. The world becomes a kinder place and we begin to like our lives.

Mindfulness: Something We Already Have

Mindfulness and its corollary, awareness, are natural aspects of everyone’s mind. We experience mindfulness whenever we are fully involved in an activity such as cooking, writing an important communication, or in a sport or art. We become so much a part of the activity that there seems to be no distinction between us and it. We experience awareness when we suddenly realize that we have been driving on automatic and have missed our turn. We have woken up to exactly where we are. These types of experiences are nonverbal and non-conceptual. They are not the same as focusing or concentrating to the extent that we don’t need to make them happen. They are not the same as thinking about an experience in the same way as remembering or imagining eating an apple is not the same as actually eating it.

Why Cultivate Mindfulness?

We can also practice mindfulness without applying it to any other activity. When we practice mindfulness for its own sake, we learn to stabilize and strengthen the mind so that we bring clarity to all of the activities of our lives, both the important and the ordinary. Using mindfulness and awareness becomes a more habitual way of living. Because we learn to recognize and let go of distractions including preoccupations such as worry and excessive planning, we are more available to experience what is actually happening at the time. We begin to discriminate the thinking that is helpful and the thinking that is cluttering or destructive. We find that when we do use our thinking mind, the ideas we generate are more creative; the decisions we make are clearer; our ability to stay with the intensity of a situation increases.
Meditation Changes the Brain