Mindfulness means focus, it means being rather than doing, it is a concentrated effort to experience the present moment. It is the practice of noticing our thoughts, body sensations and emotions with a curious and nonjudgmental attitude. Regular mindfulness practice enhances our ability to deal with distressing emotions and the thoughts associated with these emotions. By cultivating the ability to be mindful of our present experience, we gain more choices and freedom and essentially, more peace of mind.
In the last 30 years, recognizing that thoughts are connected to feelings and behaviors has helped therapists to assist their clients to take an active role in their recovery. This type of therapy, know as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), helps us recognize that negative thoughts can become a habit and affect our mood, beliefs and behaviors choices. With the help of CBT, many people have successfully reprogrammed the thought pathways in their brain changing negative beliefs about self and the world to more hopeful perspectives. This has in turn reduced their experience of depression, anxiety and stress. Using CBT methods such as automatic thought records, affirmations, thought stopping, cost benefits analysis, and evidence gathering gives a greater awareness of thinking patterns, which when modified can bring a more harmonious relationship with self, others and the world.
Mindfulness goes a step further than CBT in two ways. Firstly, mindfulness allows us to watch our experience with an attitude of curiosity and acceptance, to notice our mind’s activity without engaging in the content. Essentially we become the observer rather than the one who battles the thoughts, feelings and emotions. Mindfulness does not battle, resist or try to change; it is the practice of simply noticing; becoming the witness. Secondly, mindfulness enhances the practice of paying attention to our thoughts by adding awareness of feelings and body sensations: mindfulness practices incorporate the whole being. In mindfulness practice we pay attention to our entire experience. We come to see that both our thoughts and feelings will come and go of their own accord. This awareness leads to increased understanding of how we affect this natural process.
This understanding gives us more freedom of choice about how we respond. More freedom leads to more calmness and peace. When we become the observer of our experience it allows us to see that we are not our thoughts; there is something more. We are the witness. We come to understand that the mind is an organ like the other organs of our body. The mind’s job is to produce thoughts and it does this in a very predictable way. Our mind is no more our essence than our kidney or our heart. Mindfulness practice
is not new, but has been around for thousands of years as part of meditation practices. In psychology we say that humans are capable of metacognition essentially, thinking about our thinking. But, many 100’s of years before psychologists coined this term, eastern philosophers were using this ability to facilitate meditation and mindfulness. The ability to choose to watch (be the observer) is the essence of breath meditation
. The choice not to witness rather than engage in the “story” that our mind makes of our experience can lead to a sense of peace and calm. Eastern mystics believe that this is how we connect with the peace and well-being that is within us. This, they say is the essence of who we are.