“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” Jon Kabat-Zinn
Mindfulness: an ancient practice
Although mindfulness has only recently been embraced by Western psychology, it is an ancient practice found in a wide range of Eastern philosophies, including Buddhism and Yoga. It involves consciously bringing awareness to your here-and-now experience with openness, interest, and receptiveness and is a profound way to enhance psychological and emotional resilience, and increase life satisfaction.
Practising mindfulness helps you to manage stress and anxiety by helping you:
- to be fully present, here and now
- to experience unpleasant thoughts and feelings safely
- to become more connected to yourself, to others and to the world around you
- to increase self-awareness
- to become less disturbed by and less reactive to unpleasant experiences
- to learn the distinction between you and your thoughts
- to have more direct contact with the world, rather than living through your thoughts
- to learn that everything changes; that thoughts and feelings come and go like the weather
- to have more balance, less emotional volatility
- to experience more calm and peacefulness
- to develop self-acceptance and self-compassion
Mindfulness is the practice of paying careful attention to what is happening in the present moment, whether it be a sight, a sound, a taste, a smell, a sensation in the body, or mental cognition (this latter includes emotions and thoughts). Mindfulness is called a practice because it takes practice (our minds tend to dwell in the past and the future), and you don’t need to be meditating to practice it. Right now, stop and take three or four conscious breaths, feeling the physical sensation of the breath as it comes in and goes out of your body. There. You’ve just practiced mindfulness!
Notice that while you were engaging in this conscious breathing, your mind wasn’t dwelling in the past or the future. You may have been aware of a sound, a smell, a bodily sensation other than the breath, an emotion, a thought. Meticulous attention to whatever is happening in the present moment is the essence of mindfulness. The sensation of the breath is often used as an anchor because breathing is always present in the moment.
With practice, mindfulness calms and steadies the mind. This is beneficial because when we’re experiencing physical or emotional discomfort, our minds often churn with stressful emotions and thoughts, but they’re a muddy blur—we can’t sort them out. With mindfulness, the “mud” settles so we can see more clearly which allows us to identify what emotions and thoughts are present in our minds at the moment. “Ah, this is anger.” “This is fear.” “This is a worry-filled thought about the future.” With this clearer view, we can make skilful choices about how to respond to these emotions and thoughts—choices that will lessen our overall suffering.
Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests you picture a majestic mountain, any mountain that you can clearly visualise -the more detailed the visualization the better. The mountain is standing tall and strong, it has been there for thousands of years. All around the mountain the weather changes from beautiful sunny skies to hurricane force winds to snow and ice, but the mountain always stands firm -the activity just whirls around the mountain but does not affect it day to day. Now, sit quietly and focus on your breath going in and out -relax and breath… as the thoughts come in and out of your mind, picture yourself as the mountain -sit up tall and strong like a mountain, firmly grounded to the earth -let the thoughts and the stress and anxiety whirl around you without affecting you, the thoughts of people and situations that are pressuring you are just thoughts and you are a mountain, sitting strong. You are who you are, who you have always been, regardless of the “weather” happening around you. Sit with that feeling of power and majesty, breath in and out slowly and relax for as long as you feel comfortable doing so.
This meditation practiced for only a few minutes a day will do wonders for your self- confidence and strength. You will begin to understand that the issues that come up are just part of life, they are normal, but you don’t have to let them affect you. You can remain calm, strong and tall -who you are can remain constant. You can also achieve a relaxed state when you imagine all the details (sounds, sights, feel, smell) of a safe, comfortable place, such as a beach or a garden, either somewhere you know well or imaginary. This relaxed state may aid healing, learning, creativity, and performance. It may help you feel more in control of your emotions and thought processes, which may improve your attitude, health, and sense of well-being. It can also be used to help reach goals (such as losing weight or quitting smoking), manage pain, and promote healing. Using visualisation can even help you to prepare for an athletic event or for public speaking. Go through each step of the event in your mind, imagining yourself performing with confidence and calmness.
For more information go to my Mindful Self Help page
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