In today’s post I wanted to share I few things I’ve read about Mindfulness and the importance that it has in our lives.
“Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.”
We live but are not present in our lives. Twenty-first century lifestyles are characterised by stress, impatience and the inability to relax.
We require constant stimulation, but our minds tend to have shorter attention spans and poorer concentration levels because we are typically unaware of what we are thinking.
Experiences and details are lost due to our distractions
Sometimes we sit down for a coffee, only to find that we are left holding the empty cup! We cannot recall a single detail about the drink. We are performing actions and randomly thinking thoughts, but often we are not aware of either our thoughts or actions.
Definition of mindfulness
Moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, experiences and environment is called ‘mindfulness’. With growing stress and tension, most of us multi-task and tend to worry about multiple things simultaneously.
We function on autopilot most of the time
The tendency to worry about several things at once interferes with our ability to focus on the present moment. As a result, we tend to function on autopilot and become ‘mindless’.
Mindfulness can be practised anytime and anywhere
The concept of mindfulness doesn’t mean that one has to escape to the top of a mountain or sit in a cave in order to experience the benefits. You can practise it by simply bringing your awareness to the present moment. Most importantly, the practice of mindfulness helps us to nourish and reinforce our inner ability to restore wellbeing.
Lack of Mindfulness in our Daily Lives
We perform tasks and complete chores without the slightest bit of awareness.
The human mind is easily distracted, as we have a tendency to exist on past events or contemplate future events in a critical way.
Mindfulness is an excellent way of being more ‘present’ in our lives. Early Buddhist texts describe it as a practice that helps our minds to become more aware, awake and conscious.
What is Mindfulness and how is it Relevant to our Lives?
Mindfulness is the practice of cultivating conscious awareness of our thoughts, feelings and environment in every moment, without judging the experiences.
We gradually learn thoughts and behaviours that result in joy and those that trigger stressful reactions and suffering.
Neuroscience is increasingly supporting the idea that mindfulness and meditation help to enhance perception, awareness and complex thinking.
Resilience to stress is one of the key benefits of mindfulness.
It is the art of accessing the energy that helps you recognise the happiness that is already in your life. It helps you to silence your mind, calm your nerves and examine your inner world.
Why do we need to silence the mind and intentionally direct our energies?
The problem is that, even during our free time, we are seldom doing ‘nothing’.
Most people either text friends, check their social media pages or are thinking about the next activity on the agenda. We tend to do something, even in the middle of doing nothing!
Before examining mindfulness meditation practices, read on for its history from ancient Buddhist times.
The Buddha taught that there are three purposes of mindfulness:
Knowing the mind
Most people go through life without understanding themselves or what makes them tick. Mindfulness begins with knowing your own mind and understanding your inner motivation. The first step is to become aware and understand who you are. The first objective of mindfulness is self-discovery without judgement. The individual simply observes his feelings, thoughts and reactions without criticism.
Training the mind
Buddhist practices recommend the training of our own mind so that it functions in a beneficial way. When you fail to train your mind in a conscious manner, it becomes vulnerable to external forces. For example, our minds are often influenced by the media. Meditation is an extremely effective practice to train the mind to live in the present moment with awareness.
Rather than trying to control external events due to dissatisfaction, it is better to train the mind to accept things as they are.
Freeing the mind
Freedom from clinging is an idea that is central to the idea of Buddhist philosophy. Some of the more negative forms of clinging include clinging to opinions, judgements, people and possessions. When our minds gradually become free, we experience higher levels of focus, concentration, creativity and relaxation.
Whilst meditation is an excellent practice to train and free the mind, mindfulness can be practised at any time. The process simply involves intentionally directing your attention to your thoughts.
History and Origins of Mindfulness
Mindfulness practices can be traced back to several civilisations, including the Buddhists, Hindus and Arabs.
Although this concept is becoming popular in the west, it is an ancient practice, with its origins rooted in both Buddhist as well as Hindu tradition. The Hindus also practised a range of meditation that involved the inclusion of mindfulness; their major contribution to the practice of mindfulness was yoga.
In addition, there were Taoist practices. Taoism is a Chinese doctrine, the basis of which supports ‘energy of work’ and harmony between human beings and the environment.
The Buddha explained the philosophy of mindfulness with the objective of ending the suffering of mankind. However, its principles are effective in controlling other states of unrest, including stress, anxiety and other negative mental states. The fundamental ideas are as relevant to the twenty-first century as they were to the wandering monks of the Buddhist age.
The origins of mindfulness practice can be traced back to Buddhist origins, more than 2,500 years ago. Although it has its roots in the Buddhist religion, the practice is considered non-sectarian (it has no religious affiliation). In effect, mindfulness can be practised by anyone, of any religious faith. As with yoga, the practice does not impose upon its participants any religion or faith.
Right mindfulness is the seventh component of the famous eight-fold path of Buddhism. Mindfulness is referred to as ‘sati’ in Pali (the traditional language of ancient Buddhist scriptures).
Buddhist scriptures teach that mindfulness or body-mind alertness is experiencing reality, without filtering observations according to personal opinions and perceptions. The oldest references to ‘sati’ can be found in the Pali Canon belonging to the Theravada Buddhist sect.
The Theravada sect is one of the oldest forms of Buddhism and is still practised in some countries, including Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. The oral teachings of Buddha are contained in ‘suttas’ or canonical scriptures.
Mindfulness in the 21st Century
Thich Nhat Hanh, the world-renowned Vietnamese teacher and proponent of ‘Engaged Buddhism’ was one of the first people to bring the ideas of mindfulness and meditation to the west.
He defines mindfulness as the ability to recall a dispersed mind to a wholeness with which we can live fully every moment of our lives. He explains it as a tool by which we can integrate the body and mind and be alive in every minute without getting lost in our thoughts.
He advocated the blending of ancient wisdom with contemporary thinking and described them as ‘hardware and software’. In order to use mindfulness, you need both.
Yet another well-known proponent of mindfulness is Jon Kabat-Zinn, an MIT-trained molecular biologist who adapted Buddhist teachings on mindfulness. After he took a scientific lens to the concept of mindfulness, it became easier for westerners to understand the concept. His work helped people understand the ideas of mindfulness in a rational manner to which they were able to relate.
It was extremely important for individuals such as Thich Nhat Hanh and Jon Kabat-Zinn to bridge the gap between eastern philosophies and western thinking. Kabat-Zinn was responsible for introducing mindfulness to the scientific world and created the Centre for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Kabat-Zinn explains that it can simply be defined as the ability to pay attention in a specific manner, without judging the experience, and staying aware of the current moment. He describes mindfulness as a dynamic way of being, rather than a technique that needs to be implemented and practised for several minutes each day.
Today, mindfulness is considered an effective intervention and is taught by professionals and leaders from different fields. Mindfulness-based interventions (also referred to as MBI’s) are now recognised as being potentially beneficial in a wide range of fields, including, amongst others, the military, government, the corporate world, sports and health care.
The philosophy of mindfulness is now taught with the help of several additional aids, such as research, best practices, secular language and computer-aided interventions. Mindfulness is being increasingly used as an effective adjunct to cognitive and other therapies.
This topic is huge, helpful and interesting, so if you want to learn more, make sure you’re not going to miss a post from now on. You can find everything relative on this, here. In my next post, I’ll share Mindfulness and Meditation practices, so follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter if you want to know when I post.
See you soon,