A client recently asked me: “What is involved in mindfulness and how do you implement?” “Mindfulness is a state of consciousness…a quality of being,” I said helpfully. My client stared at me blankly. Okay, let me try again.
“My favorite definition of mindfulness comes from Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. He says that mindfulness is, ‘paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.’ Now do you understand?” I said expectantly. This time, I was met with a slow shake of the head, a furrowed brow and a slight glazing over in the eyes. I took a deep breath.
Okay, let’s break it down. “When you are practicing Mindfulness (I’ll explain ‘practicing ‘in a minute, I thought) you are: non-conceptual, present-centered, nonjudgmental, and intentional.
Non-conceptual means that you can be aware of a thought, feeling or behavior without becoming absorbed in the thought, feeling, or behavior. In other words, you can be aware of the ride without going on it.
Present centered is pretty straightforward. You are in the present moment and work at staying in the present moment.
The nonjudgmental part is my personal favorite. There is no need to try to make it anything other than what it is. There is no need for judgment…good or bad.
And finally, the intentional part means that you have made a decision to place your attention where you want it to go, not where that hijacking amygdala might want it to go. (Oh great! Now, I’m going to have to explain the amygdala! How much time do we have?!)”
Mindfulness practice is called a practice because, hopefully, most of the time, we are all practicing being our best self. Sometimes, we are closer to that goal than at other times. Calling it a practice reminds us that perfection is not the goal.
Mindfulness practice is truly a brain thing! It is a process for training our brain to seek out a more aware state of being. Too often, events around us, thoughts, feelings and memories of past experiences can trigger old habits of negative thinking, and ineffective, unskillful and unloving speech and behavior. We end up acting reflexively and without much awareness.
Improving our skill at mindfulness can help us recognize thoughts of self-doubt and feelings of low self-esteem. Mindfulness can be a tool that will help us challenge self-critical thoughts, reduce stress, and improve our actions in the world. With practice it can help us stay as close as possible to our best intentions.
If you are interested in learning more about the practice of Mindfulness or, if you need to me to try again to explain the concept I hope you will call the office and schedule an appointment with me. We haven’t even talked about the amygdala yet!