My 11yo grandson told me that mindfulness is "focusing on just what you are doing".
As always, I find it hard to improve on the simple, straight forward definitions and messages that children deliver. But, of course, being an adult, I have to use more words - and then I start to think about how much we complicate things with language - but that's another topic altogether!
To me, mindfulness is the practice of becoming fully aware of the present moment. When we are mindful we are totally aware of whatever it is that we are experiencing in that particular moment, without judgement.
For me, it also means being fully present to another person and their experience. When I am mindful, I am fully present in the moment, totally seeing and hearing the other person, without judgement, and also noticing my own responses. As you can imagine, this really helps me in my work - but think for a moment what that might mean in personal relationships.
Imagine what it's like to have someone totally there with you in the moment, bringing their full awareness to you and your experience, without judgement! Imagine your relationships if each person did this for the other. You have probably already experienced this with someone, but if you're anything like me, the busyness of life and the tyranny of the urgent can dominate your mind so much that it feels there's not much space for anything else. We tend to get caught on a treadmill or merry-go-round of thoughts and worries, and it's hard to stop the treadmill or merry-go-round and just be present.
Dan Siegel suggests that mindfulness is ‘being conscientious and intentional in what we do, being open and creative with possibilities and being aware of the present moment without grasping onto judgements’ – he suggests that it is a ‘state of awareness that enables us to be flexible and receptive and to have presence.’
As you can imagine, I especially like the 'without grasping onto judgements' and 'have presence' bits. :)
Mindfulness helps our relationships, and also helps our own wellbeing. Very often we spend a lot of time thinking about the past, sometimes with regret, or thinking about the future, sometimes with anxiety. When we are mindful, we ‘unhook’ from thoughts about the past or the future, and keep our focus on what we are experiencing in that present moment. We make no judgements about what we are thinking or feeling, but rather just notice and accept.
Acceptance is a peaceful state. Once we accept, we let go of our mental strivings and create clear space in our mind. From this place we can reconnect with our true values and make decisions that are more truly aligned with who we are. This allows us to respond to experiences and to our environment, rather than react.
We can practice mindfulness whilst we are sitting still, just being fully aware of what we are experiencing within our body at that time, what we are feeling and what we are thinking. We can also practice mindfulness while we are eating, walking or engaging in another activity, by keeping our focus just on what we are experiencing in that moment. As mentioned above, we can practice mindfulness in our relationships by being fully present or aware of the other person and what they are expressing.
I think we all need more mindfulness in our lives (self included!!) - life is racing by and there's so much going on in our communites and in the world around us to grab our attention. So much so, that we don't always notice our own responses.
Just yesterday I enjoyed a day at Phillip Island with Jo Ablett and five other like-minded therapists. It was lovely to take time out and be fully present for a day of reflection and immersion in Expressive therapies. I certainly feel refreshed as a result! I am also reminding myself that I can access that peaceful place within whenever I wish, simply by being mindful.