Mindfulness is the ability to pay attention to our present experience, without judgement or criticism, but with open curiosity and kindness.
You may have seen the word “mindfulness” a lot recently, and thought – “what exactly is mindfulness?”
“Mindful” means “inclined to be aware” – Merriam Webster’s Dictionary
To be mindful is simply to be aware. When someone says “be mindful of that step”, we interpret it as “be aware of that step” so we don’t trip over it.
Let’s take this definition one step further. So, what are we being aware of ?
Mindfulness involves being aware of our present experience at any given moment . Our present experience consists of our:
- Thoughts – what are we thinking ?
- Emotions – what are we feeling ?
- Physical sensations – what is our body telling us ?
- Surrounding environment – what do we see, hear, feel and touch ?
When paying attention to these thoughts, emotions and actions, we do so without judgement – accepting them exactly as they are. This means observing our present experience like an objective third party – without any biases or labelling any experience as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.
What’s the benefit of practising awareness, of being present ?
Firstly, by paying attention to our surroundings, we learn to notice and better appreciate each moment, even the mundane, routine ones, such as travelling to work, brushing our teeth or emptying the dishwasher. Secondly, it helps prevent us from reacting immediately to our thoughts, emotions and actions and getting carried away by them. This gives us the freedom to choose how we respond to each situation and stops us from doing something we may regret, or dwelling on thoughts and situations that we cannot control or change.
As Viktor Frankl reminds us:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”