Our mind is a den with a random inflow and outflow of thoughts. In this fast paced world, our mind is always ‘on’ wandering aimlessly and ceaselessly amidst this chaotic flow of thoughts. We strive and struggle to get things done, meet deadlines and fulfill tasks one after another.
We stop living for the present moment. This agitates our mind. Struggling is important in life but equally important is to pause and slow down a bit. For example, many of us rush to pick up a phone call driven the hasty nature that we have developed bit by bit. We tend to lose our focus instantly. We cease to be mindful.
To put it simply, mindfulness implies being in the present moment. Focus on the present situation. Forget about the past gains and pains. Stop projecting the future. Just be in the moment. Rein in your mind to the present moment.
To understand mindfulness better, let us study the word unmindful. What does it mean? It means our attention in constantly shifting gears completely losing focus on the present moment.
Just recollect when did you last enjoy the beautiful sunshine or admired the beauty of a blooming flower or the flock of birds flying across the sky? Seldom. Beecause hardly your mind is aware of the present moment.
Mindfulness is just the reverse of unmindful or ‘mindlessness’. It means raising the moment-to moment-awareness and focus our attention to the present with full acknowledgement and acceptance of our feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations. It helps us reconnect with self and create harmony with the world.
History and origin:
Now from where did the concept of mindfulness originate? Its roots can be traced 2500 years back in the early Buddhism text Satipatthana Sutta. Sati meaning mindfulness. The first ever set of instructions of mindfulness is laid by Buddha guiding the practitioner in 4 different aspects as follows:
- The Body (or the breath)
- Feelings and sensations
- Mental content
It is also said that Mindfulness has historical roots in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
In the 1970s, it was Prof. Jon Kabat Zinn who played a significant role in popularizing Mindfulness in the West. He got trained in mindfulness by several notable Buddhist teachers. He founded the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the Oasis Institute for Mindfulness-Based Professional Education.
He devised an 8-week long Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program which gained immense popularity. The same program gave birth to another therapy based program Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy aimed to treat people with severe depressive disorder.
The subject roused enough interest in people of all age groups and a number of researches were conducted indicating the correlation between mindfulness and reduced stress and improved psychological functioning.
The effectiveness of mindfulness in improving physical and mental health is documented through a number of clinical studies. Programs of Jon Kabat and similar models are being widely adopted in schools, rehabilitation centers, hospitals, sports center and centers for senior citizens to calm down the agitated mind bringing the focus to the present.
Mindfulness is based on the person’s awareness of present events.
Ruminating is ingrained in human nature. The intensity varies from person to person. Studies have shown that rumination is the root of depression and anxiety. The intervention of mindfulness is useful to get rid of this habit as we gain more focus and awareness of the present moments.
The practice of mindfulness gives you a deeper insight of reality. These are centered on three marks of existence as laid by principles of Buddhism:
Impermanence – Anitya (nothing is permanent)
Unsatisfactionness – Dukkhya (pain or suffering)
Non-self – Anatta (non-existence of permanent self or soul)
As the practitioner gains insight, he/she achieves the first state of liberation known as Sotapana and grows the power of overcoming stress, pains and suffering.
There are key principles that would lead you to mindfulness:
Focus on the present moment – Don’t get lost in thinking about the past or worrying about the future.
Being fully present– What are you experiencing around you at present? What are you seeing? What are you hearing? What are your body sensations?
Be open to experience – We always dread or apprehend any experience. But we should welcome these with curiosity. The thoughts and feelings that come up naturally are mere momentary sensations. As you become aware of the flow of your thoughts and sensations, these change naturally overtime preventing you from getting overwhelmed.
Be non-judgmental – Do not judge your feelings as good or bad. You should not even try to change or act on them. Every feeling has an objective. Accept them with an open mind but consciously.
Accept life as it comes to you – Your vision may not fit in the reality. Therefore, never force any change in reality and consider yourself as a victim of unfairness. Have the strength that you can tolerate any experience that life gifts you. This would give you the strength to extend this acceptance to others.
Be connected – As you practice acceptance, you feel connected with yourself and all animate and inanimate objects around you. You feel thankful for your life and traits that nature has endowed on you.
Practice non-attachment – Nothing is permanent as life is a continuous flow. Never hold on to any thing, people and experiences. Attachment breeds worry and fear. Be confident enough to adapt with the flow of life.
Maintain equanimity– Life brings you highs and lows. Never get swept away in this tide. These situations do not present the entire scenario. Be firm in your vision and values and you walk away with a peaceful heart and non-harming attitude.
Extend your compassion – Never criticize or punish yourself and others. Be compassionate. Understand your capabilities and accept those. Understand other’s situation instead of condemning or punishing.
How to achieve Mindfulness?
It is the power to say ‘Yes’ to the present. You accept the reality without being judgmental. It may not sound easy but is not that tough either. Remember mindfulness is our innate trait. We just need to nurture it through practice.
We do exhibit a certain degree of mindfulness through our various activities. Don’t you get lost while reading an interesting book or watching an exciting movie? You become so engrossed that you become oblivious of what is happening around you. Your full attention remains on the present happening.
To practice mindfulness you do not need any formal setting. You can do it at your home at anytime of the day that suits you best. You can go for a nature work or practice meditation regularly.
The objective remains the same – to achieve a state of mental awareness through focused relaxation.
Mindfulness and meditation- The difference:
Meditation is a temporary state of mind but mindfulness is not. During meditation, you remain focused for a limited period of time and it vanishes later in the day. Mindfulness, on the other hand, is a regular practice that teaches you to be mindful in your every word and actions.
Mindfulness is not a tool to eliminate your life’s challenges and difficulties but being mindful you will be able to have a better control of the situation good or bad. You will have the ability to make proper judgments according to situational demands.
All mindfulness techniques involve some sort of meditation.
You may ask, “Is meditation at all necessary to achieve mindfulness?” I would say, Meditation is the tool to sharpen the inherent trait of mindfulness. The more you practice more will be your consciousness and awareness. You would be able tackle any situation or experience remaining unperturbed.
Let us go through the simplest mindfulness meditation technique:
- Sit comfortably on a stable and solid seat or cushion.
- Position your legs. If you are sitting on a cushion or mat fold your legs comfortably. If on a chair, rest the bottom of your feet on the floor.
- Keep your body straight but not stiff.
- Position your arms comfortably in parallel to your torso with the palms resting comfortably on your thigh.
- Position your chin a little downwards. Fix your gaze gently downwards. No need to close your eyes but you can if you wish so.
- Notice your breathing. Focus on the inhaling and exhaling process. The rise and fall of your belly and chest.
- Check when your mind starts wandering shifting the focus from breathing. It is natural. No need to worry. Just bring back your attention to your breathing process.
- No need to wrestle with your wandering mind. Instead of reacting, just refocus your attention. It is tough to maintain the focus. You need to repeat this focusing on your breath again and again without being judgmental.
- When you are able to give full attention, lift your gaze slowly. Try to observe the sounds around you. Try to feel the body sensations. Observe your thoughts and emotions.
Can mindfulness ease our lives?
Mindfulness has become almost a buzzword since past two decades. Today, this simple meditation practice has turned into an industry. Psychologists are concerned about the claims made that can cure anything from depression to cancer, which are not validated. They are also concerned that mindfulness meditation may cause adverse effects in some people.
Amidst all sorts of opinions, it can be concluded that harnessing the mind is essential. It is essential to sweep the chaos from our mind so that we perceive a better clarity of thoughts and take suitable actions. Mindfulness teaches us that.