What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the state of consciousness that involves attentive awareness, in the present moment with curiosity and without judgment. John Welwood writes about the great strength and courage it takes in observing ourselves and others and the need for compassion and acceptance for what we see. When we judge, we lose the ability to be compassionate and accepting and in its place we may experience shame, self-loathing, and separation.
In a mindfulness practice, one can begin to notice one’s experience which may include physical sensations, impulses, emotions, thoughts, beliefs, memories, and meaning making. While some spiritual traditions use mindfulness practices to achieve higher states of consciousness (enlightenment or bliss), the practice of mindfulness can be used in a non-dogmatic practice to more fully observe and experience what is. It allows for sensation and tolerance without over identification with thoughts and feelings. As a result we may feel calmer and have more ability to sit with what we are experiencing rather than reacting or contracting. It’s the ability to observe anger without being caught in it, or to notice the impulse to become defensive without succumbing to the underlying anxiety and need to protect one’s self. It can be about observing when we want to be right rather than work collaboratively to solve a problem.
Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness can be an antidote to delusion and is a powerful tool to reduce suffering. Being human involves experiencing pain. We cannot love without also grieving and/or feeling loss. Suffering is what we do to add to our pain. Mindfulness helps to support this human experience while reducing unnecessary suffering.
Mindfulness supports the arising of wisdom and helps us move organically towards health and wellness. The stabilization of emotions and cognitive processes that occurs with mindfulness practices has been increasingly found to alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and the prevention of relapse of depression and addiction.
Research shows that mindfulness practices promotes improvements in metacognitive awareness, decreases rumination (repeating thoughts), decreases stress, improves working memory, improves focus, and reduces emotional reactivity. Additional benefits include increases in relationship satisfaction, improved insight, improved immune functioning, and improvements in well-being. It has also been found to promote empathy and compassion.
Exercise: Sit quietly and set a timer for 2 minutes. Begin to notice your breath rising and falling in your chest and/or belly. If your mind wanders, come back to your breath. Reset the timer and turn your attention to your body and notice any physical sensations such as tightness, warmth/cold, tingling, pressure. Notice any impulses to move. Reset the timer again and now notice sounds. Allow them to be like waves in the ocean, coming and going. Now turn your attention to your thoughts. Not following them or being caught in them, just noticing them and perhaps naming the type of thought (worrying, planning, rehearsing, etc.). Now turn back to your breath for a few moments.
To learn more about how to use mindfulness as a practice for stress reduction and cultivating self-awareness, contact Paths to Wellness at 650-332-4656.
Links and Resources:
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the developer of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction discusses What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook by Bob Stahl, Elisha Goldstein, Saki Santorelli, Jon Kabat-Zinn.
For more information on how psychotherapy can support your greater well-being, contact Dr. Valerie Sher at 408-507-4329.