What is Mindfulness?

The most widely used definition of “Mindfulness” comes from Jon Kabat-Zinn, who describes it as “the process of paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” To put that in everyday speak: Mindfulness means that your mind is “full” of whatever you are doing – that your attention is focused on your experience in each moment. You’re not thinking about what you wish you had said to your best friend on the phone yesterday. You’re not worrying about what your child’s teacher might say at your conference next week. You are simply and fully alive, awake and present to what is going on right then and there, whatever it may be.

Almost anything can be done mindfully, even washing the dishes. But here are a couple of the most common mindfulness practices.

Meditation:

Meditation is probably the most widely-known practice to quiet the mind and deepen our connection to the present moment. Typically, we use an object of meditation, such as our breath or a “mantra” (the silent repetition of a sound or phrase), as the anchor to which we return when the stream of thoughts carries us away. Whenever we observe that the mind has drifted away, we gently bring our attention back to our anchor. Do this over and over again gently, compassionately, and you are meditating.

Sensational Mindfulness:

Another set of common mindfulness practices rely on our senses to keep our attention fully grounded in the present.  Whether we are practicing mindful listening, mindful seeing, mindful tasting . . ., by paying focused and full attention to the completely felt experience of that moment and setting aside the distraction of unrelated thinking, each of the senses can be a gateway to a deeper connection with the self.

Mindful Movement:

Just as staying connected to our sensory experiences can keep us present to the unfolding moment, so can establishing a deep connection to the way we move our body. There are many formal methods of mindful movement – yoga, tai chi, qi gong – but we can experience the benefits of mindfulness through any movement as long as we bring our awareness to our body in every moment – where it is, what it is doing, how it feels.

Guided Meditation:

In Guided Meditation we use relaxing mental images to engage all our senses in an imaginary journey or experience. This method tends to work best when facilitated by a teacher or guide, and there are many excellent guided meditations available for purchase or download.

Loving-Kindness Meditation:

Loving-kindness practices (sometimes called compassion practices) invite us to open our hearts by connecting to our feelings as we send messages of compassion and “friendly-wishes” to ourselves and others. Metta Meditation is a formal loving-kindness practice where we hold in our thoughts an expanding group of individuals (starting with ourselves and growing to include first our loved ones, then our community and finally the whole world) as we silently repeat a set of four wishes:  “May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be peaceful and at ease.”