Mindfulness: What it IS… and what it’s NOT


Mindfulness: What it IS … and what it’s NOT.

If the term mindfulness conjures images of sitting still on cushions for intolerable periods of time, we invite you to reconsider.

Mindfulness is not limited to meditation. It can be practiced in meditation. It can also be practiced in everyday moments.

Mindfulness can be playing a game that involves aiming at target. Mindfulness can be walking. Mindfulness can be having a really focused conversation. It is about increasing awareness and paying close attention — really useful if you are aiming at stuff.

If you have a stereotype of who mindfulness people are, we invite you to reconsider.

You do not need to drive a hybrid vehicle, have a crystal dangling from your mirror or attend yoga to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness concepts are now being brought into the board room, onto fields and courts of sport, and into the classroom.

It’s about knowing what is on your mind.” Jon Kabat-Zinn

Simply put, mindfulness is about knowing what is on your mind. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.

Mindfulness is intentional. It is a focused attention on the now.

Being mindful might be a way to help choose what thoughts are important to bring into greater awareness — maybe even bring into the realm of becoming an action or part of a conversation — or not. Doing nothing is sometimes a terrific choice.

Being mindful is a way of identifying skillful choices. Being mindful can be a way of bringing ourselves into closer connection with ourselves and others.

Paying attention, staying calm, and being aware of reality in a more functional way depends on our ability to see this as a process between thoughts and our thought observer. Our thought observer is what might be known as the higher mind and our raw “come and go” thoughts dance along to the soundtrack of internal and external sensory experiences. Learning how to process these sensory experiences — to act or not act, to speak or not speak — involves paying attention, keeping our nervous system calm, and, yes, staying mindful so we can make the best decisions possible from moment to moment.

What mindfulness IS, is not just yoga and the smell of burning sage, sitting for long periods of time, or listening to relaxation CDs. These are different mindfulness practices. Mindfulness is paying attention.

Mindfulness is NOT a blank mind. Our minds are busy. You can’t really be bad at mindfulness. You can choose to practice it or not. An important teaching we have received is that mindfulness is not staying fixed statically in this moment but rather the act of noticing when our attention has strayed and, gently, inviting it back to this moment.

Mindfulness is NOT a religion. Meditation practices, prayers, and other rituals associated with religion can certainly be considered a mindful exercise due to their higher mind ambitions. In fact, it is unfortunate that intensely practical exercises get ignored because people want to stay as far away from religion as possible.

Mindfulness can be playing a game of skill. Mindfulness can be practiced walking in the woods or on the beach. Mindfulness is a crucial part of decision-making and listening. Any hockey goalie is a guru of mindfulness to sustain that kind of concentration. Concentration — another good word for something that mindfulness IS.

To concentrate on your sensory experience RIGHT NOW is mindfulness. This is why focusing on breathing is a good start. Breathing is life. This is one of the most ignored yet obvious facts for human beings. If you want to get your head out of the hells of the past, or the fears of the future, pay attention to the way you are breathing RIGHT NOW.

5-4-3-2-1 Try this simple mindfulness exercise:

Take a deep breath.

Notice 5 things you can see.

Notice 4 things you can touch.

Notice 3 things you can hear.

Notice 2 things you can smell.

Notice 1 thing you can taste.

This is mindfulness.

This is the first of an ongoing discussion about the many aspects of mindfulness.

Pete Afflerbach, MA LCMHC is a licensed mental health counselor. Pete works with all ages and has particular specialties in working with teens and those struggling with addiction. Pete is enthusiastic about helping people break down the challenges they face into smaller, more manageable pieces.
bharrison-small Betsy Harrison, MA LCMHC is a founding partner of Counseling Associates, a licensed clinical mental health counselor, a Certified Journal to the Self® Instructor and a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator. In addition to her clinical work, Betsy leads workshops on reflective writing, curiosity and creativity.

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