What is Mindfulness? Huw Griffiths explains.
Today, mindfulness has become a buzzword. Everyone is being mindful. People often consider that if they do something with some attention that they are being ‘mindful’. But is that mindfulness? The mindfulness which is going to reduce your anxiety and depression? The mindfulness which is going to increase your creativity and happiness and wellbeing? Sadly, no. For just being absorbed in an action, an experience, an enticing thought often as not is just a mental distraction, a temporary pause away from the reality of your life. True mindfulness alters the way your brain functions. It creates a new neural pathway a new habit of being more aware and alive to your life.
I would like to define Mindfulness in a more concise and useful way.
Mindfulness is a skill, mindfulness is a language, mindfulness is a cognitive focus of using your mind so that you are fully present in the moment. That your focused, conscious attention is on that which is happening to you and around you at any one moment. And this mindfulness skill takes practice, concentration and perseverance.
John Kabat Zin in his book Full Catastrophe Living, says that mindfulness is ‘the ability to focus your mind 100% in the present moment, at will, nonjudgmentally’. During the series of these articles I will focus on each part of this statement and show you how you can achieve this in your life.
As a broad rule of thumb, your mind usually can only focus for about 5 seconds to 10 seconds before being distracted by a thought or an idea. To be able to keep your mind focused in the present moment on actually what is happening Now is extremely challenging. For our minds are constantly jumping in and around our surroundings and in and around our mental memories and experiences. The ‘monkey mind’.
Mindfulness is the skill of holding your attention in the Now, the present moment whilst not trying to change or fix or analyse or judge what is going on around you, but to just be with yourself in whichever situation you find yourself, observing the experience it for what it is and THEN choosing how in that moment you best could respond to that moment.
How can you achieve such a skill?
There are two parts to developing this skill and becoming truly mindful in your daily life.
- You go regularly to the mindfulness gym
- You take the acquired mindfulness fitness (skill) and use it in your daily life
Similar to becoming physically fit, mindfulness demands a degree of will and commitment to want to change.
Going to the mindfulness gym is rather similar to going to a physical gym. If you want to get fit, become healthy and have the benefits of feeling good then what do you have to get down to the gym!
However, it’s no good at the beginning of the year just buying a subscription and hoping that that will do the trick! No, you have to go to the gym, you have to work out, on a treadmill which goes nowhere, you’ve got to row in a boat with no water and you’ve got to ride a bike without wheels…. Actually, it is all a bit difficult and tedious to begin with…. but if you do it for one week, two weeks, three weeks, you’ll find yourself getting fitter losing a few pounds and feeling better in yourself.
It is exactly the same with the mindfulness gym, with the workout not being physical but in your mind. The mindfulness training is to actively do nothing on purpose, to notice where your focus of attention is at any specific moment and to consciously bring it back, bring your attention back to whatever is happening Now, in this moment.
It is the creation not of physical power and a lean body but that of a clear mind and free from random thoughts and emotions. The ability to truly be present in what is happening in your life Now.
Why would you want to do this?
Mindfulness helps you to become less stressed because stress is the result of not being present stress. It is the result of your clever mind, your executive decision-maker thinking about what you’ve done, projecting what you’ve got to do and then going into a physiological chemical release. This emotional response is not to the reality you see in this moment. Your thoughts can be from years ago, projected into the next week, the next month, the next year but the brain cannot tell the difference.
Mindfulness helps to discern the difference between what is actually happening now and what we worry about. The projecting and obsession of the future. The regret and guilt of the past. The disempowerment these actions bring into our lives.
Mindfulness is about allowing ourselves to relax on a very deep level to gain the confidence and clarity of who we really are, the real you.
Unless you live your life from this centre point, clear of overwhelming dramas, stories and imagined fears then you will only create more of the same, no matter how hard you try you will never succeed in being able to distract yourself for the rest of your life. The practice of having mindful conscious awareness in your life is similar to recalibrating your compass, choosing your direction and having a constant guide to refer to when you feel lost.
Through the practice of mindfulness you can change how your mind thinks through changing the neural pathways in your brain, which change the way you experience your life.
Don’t keep reading about mindfulness unless it inspires you to practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is not an idea or a thought, it is an active life skill.