What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a way of paying attention, of being deeply attuned to yourself, the environment and those around you. It is a natural state of mind, focused and aware. Rooted in the ancient art of meditation, mindfulness skills can be learned and practiced by virtually anyone to help work with physical or emotional pain, stress, or fatigue and the ups and downs of ordinary everyday life, no matter what their religious or cultural background.
Often we find ourselves swept away by thoughts and feelings that are wrapped up in the past or the future. We lose the connection with what is actually going on now by ‘being somewhere else’ and we don’t even realise it. Mindfulness encourages us to pay attention to what’s going on ‘right now’, developing a moment-to-moment non-judgemental awareness.
Mindfulness–based approaches to stress, anxiety and depression emphasise holding thoughts and feelings in awareness rather than trying to change them. It aims to help people build their own strategies for staying well.
Mindfulness–based approaches introduce practices and skills that aim to bring about a different way of relating to experience, replacing an old mode of ‘fixing and repairing’ problems with a mode of allowing things to be as they are in order to see more clearly how best to respond.
Zindel Segal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale developed Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). It fuses long-established meditation techniques with a modern therapeutic approach, emerging as an extension of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in the late 1970’s in the USA. MBCT was designed specifically to help people who suffer repeated episodes of stress, anxiety or depression. It is recommended by the ‘National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence‘ (NICE) as a means to work with depression that is proven to help prevent relapse in people who are currently well.
Mindfulness is not a ‘quick fix’ any more than therapy or counselling: it requires commitment and time. Through engaging in systematic training in regular meditation practices we can bring the effects of this into our daily life. Anyone willing to apply themselves consistently can benefit from doing these simple practices that deepen their effectiveness through sustained daily application. We can alter our relationship with our experience – and so greatly enhance our quality of life – even if our objective circumstances are unchanged.
There’s a substantial, growing body of research indicating that cultivating mindful awareness is an effective framework for an improved quality of life with the potential to enable us to enjoy good relationships with others, to be calm even in moments of crisis, to be open to serenity and joy and to love and be loved.