Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.
Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment instead of rehashing the past or imagining the future.
Kabat-Zinn, if you haven’t heard of him, is a famous teacher of mindfulness meditation and the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.
Perhaps no other person has done more to bring mindfulness meditation into the contemporary landscape of America than Jon Kabat-Zinn. Through a number of research studies, and through Kabat-Zinn’s pioneering work at the University of Massachusetts Medical School where he is founder of its world-renowned Stress Reduction Clinic, mindfulness is finally being recognized as a highly effective tool for dealing with stress, chronic pain, and other illnesses…We are not trying to actively achieve a state of deep relaxation—or any other state for that matter—while practicing mindfulness, he teaches. But interestingly, by opening to an awareness of how things actually are in the present moment, we often taste very deep states of relaxation and well-being of both body and mind. http://shop.wildmind.org/Guided-Mindfulness-Meditation-A-Complete-Guided-Mindfulness-Meditation-Program-from-Jon-Kabat-Zinn/
His definition of mindfulness is used widely among teachers of mindfulness and mindful meditation: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
Mindfulness is the foundation of a reasonably happy, successful life. It allows us to gain awareness of our feelings, thoughts, behaviors, relationships, and environments. Awareness then helps us to make more informed and effective choices and build a more satisfying life. Neuroscience research shows that mindfulness makes positive and lasting changes to our brains.
Mindfulness also teaches us to predict what will happen next – in ourselves and the world outside. A couple of months after practicing mindfulness, I learned that if my nose starts to burn, I am going to start to cry. I have plenty of time to change my focus to stop the embarrassing tears. That, for me is more that a small step toward self-control because I’m a crier. By observation, I have realized that little more than amusing lie from someone most often predicts greater deception down the line. I not only have more control over myself, but I am prepared for those things that happen outside of my control.
Central to mindfulness is the concept of taking hold of one’s mind. This means concentrating our attention on what we choose and not having emotions, thoughts, or other experiences control us. Training yourself to collect information and directing your attention creates organization in your mind and time to choose your reactions instead of just letting your emotions take over. It teaches you to test, based on earlier situations, the big picture. This in turn allows us to control what we can and cope with that which we cannot
Mindfulness skills open doors to acceptance, experiences and allow us to see where we connect with the rest of the world. The knowledge adds up and allows for more complete and richer information and experiences to guide us. It helps us avoid our default ways of being, like disconnected, judgmental, and alone. These default approaches reduce our experience because we label and categorize and quickly move on without viewing either the bigger picture or the underlying meanings thereof.
As one of the most worthwhile pursuits in Stoic Paganism, our efforts dedicated to mindfulness will reap great benefits if practiced daily. I will give specific exercises that will teach the other skills needed to nurture mindfulness. The concept is straightforward, but being mindful requires both attention and disciplined practice over time. This is largely the importance of ritual in Stoic Paganism since performing to rituals properly requires mindfulness.
Are you still having difficulty grasping the idea of mindfulness? It means paying attention, examining each detail and wondering what it means, if anything. The best description I ever heard was from a Buddhist master Jack Kornfield.
Imagine something has awakened you in the middle of the night. You seem to recall a loud noise but you can’t quite remember what it was. You lie there quietly, listen to every little sound, and watch for every movement analyzing it all. Is someone in the house? Am I in danger? You might even sniff the air to see if you smell smoke. Is there a car in the driveway? Is that dog next door barking? Why would he bark at this hour? Has someone just delivered the morning paper?
You focus your attention completely upon every activity within your environment. You observe and analyze everything that happens until you’re convinced that you know the right thing to do. You may decide you are safe and just go back to sleep, but you may decide it is best to dial 911 because unfamiliar sounds and sights continue to break your calm. Either way, you have applied your whole mind to the problem.
That’s what mindfulness is. What if you were able to focus your attention to that degree all the time? What problems could you handle better or even avoid all together?
For our exercise this time, we are going to do something very simple to help you focus on one thing. You will need:
- a box of crayons, colored pencils, pens, or paints
- a mandala.
You can find free mandalas to print and color at http://printmandala.com/ or on a variety of other pages. So choose one and just sit down and color your page. If your mind starts to wander just gently bring it back to the color, the texture, and the overall effect. It might be wise to chose a length of time, say 10 – 15 minutes, and stop at that point. First, you may find it difficult to pay attention to only one thing for 10 whole minutes. Second, you may get caught up and do nothing else all day if you don’t set a limit. So there you have it – your opportunity to try mindfulness.
What did you notice about coloring the picture?
In what order did you decide to color it?
What colors did you choose?
Write about what happened, what you noticed, or what you learned about yourself.