What is Mindfulness?
"Only the present moment contains life."
- Thich Nhat Hanh
What does mindfulness mean?
Mindfulness means paying attention, on purpose, non-judgmentally, in the present moment. The main idea behind mindfulness is that the present moment is the only life we have to live. Rather than getting stuck in regrets about the past or worries about the future, we can live fully in the now.
Mindfulness is also about acceptance of the present moment. As we practice letting go of the desire to change our current experience, we become more open to fully experiencing everything each moment has to offer, whether pleasant, unpleasant, neutral, or all three. We begin to understand just how rich life is.
The practice of mindfulness includes formal and informal practices, including meditation and daily mindful attitude and awareness exercises.
How can mindfulness help me?
Do you ever feel as if you are on autopilot, trying to live up to some set of expectations, but never truly living? Do you feel like your real life will begin as soon as you finish all those items on your to-do list? Mindfulness can free you from a task-oriented, expectation-driven mindset. Instead you can begin to slow down, be present with those you love, and find your sense of self again.
Where did mindfulness come from?
Although the western practice of mindfulness is relatively new, people have been practicing mindfulness for thousands of years in the east. Mindfulness gained popularity in the west when Jon Kabat-Zinn studied mindfulness and founded the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts. He also developed the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR) in 1979.
Since then, mindfulness has been the focus of a great deal of scientific research. These studies have clearly demonstrated the effectiveness of mindfulness for helping people generally, as well as addressing a variety of mental health disorders.
Where can I go to learn more about mindfulness?
The Harvard Gazette (Article on Mindfulness)
The mindful way through depression: Freeing yourself from chronic unhappiness. By J. Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, & Jon Kabat-Zinn. Guilford Press (2007).
Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. By Jon Kabat-Zinn. New York: Hyperion (1994).
Full catastrophe living : Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. By Jon Kabat-Zinn. New York: Bantam Books (2013).
How do mindfulness and CBT work together?
When mindfulness and CBT are integrated, it is called Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). Naturally, we all want to avoid negative feelings. However, when we attempt to avoid feeling bad, paradoxically, we often feel worse. Mindfulness encourages us to stop trying to escape from unpleasant sensations. In this way, you can change your relationship to difficult thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness exercises allow you stop habitual reactions to situations and, instead, learn new ways of responding. You will begin to see yourself as separate from your thoughts and moods, rather than defined and controlled by them.