Mindfulness is very simple. One problem is that we make it more complicated than it needs to be once we try to describe, and define it. Much like riding a bike, you can be aware that you are doing it, but describing how to do it doesn't really give you the experience. It is a doing thing. An activity, a skill, and in some respects an attitude. However it is an activity that has been linked to many benefits, such as greater awareness, more resilience, improved mood, less reactivity, less anxiety, more rationale decision making, and greater creativity.
Mindfulness is awareness (experience) without any conceptual overlay.
What does this mean?
This simply means learning to attend to what is without adding anything extra. That is a skill that allows us to respond to situations in a fresh, and creative manner.
While my one line definition above is completely true, the trouble with definitions like this is that they make mindfulness seem strange, in fact slightly weird, and complicated. It is actually very simple, and is something we all do naturally. Most of us just don't engage with life mindfully very often. What practising mindfulness does is help us to develop a skill that we all naturally have to some degree.
Mindfulness helps us connect to the present, and what is happening in the present rather than to our ideas, fantasies, or worries about what might be happening. It helps us be less blinkered by our fixed and rigid ideas about how things are, and how we think they should be. This gives us more freedom to respond rationally, flexibly, and creatively. This has not only been shown in laboratory studies, but is reported by participants of mindfulness based group programmes, and those who learn mindfulness in individual therapy.
Mindfulness is now widely used in business, in leadership programmes, in helping promote elite sports performance, and of course in a variety of therapies. These, including in the management of chronic pain, and in treatments for various forms of anxiety and depression.
Mindfulness is not a cure-all. However, if properly understood, and used in conjunction with appropriate interventions it is a powerful tool.
Most of the programmes and interventions I offer have a strong mindfulness based orientation. This is due to my interest in mindfulness, my understanding of the way it relates to basic cognitive processes involved in thinking and emotion, and the research around what is effective in therapy. This does not always involve seated meditation. However, in my experience seated mindfulness practice is the best method of developing mindfulness (sort of like push ups for developing the abilities of awareness) but my training also utilises other ways of attending and of practising mindfulness that can be just as useful depending on the situation.
In my blog I will post occasional comments about mindfulness, and links to some resources. I hope you find these useful.
Anyone who has done some reading around mindfulness will be aware that there are other definitions apart from the one line description I provided above. Or, you may not be aware that there are numerous modern definitions. Most of these are derived from a combination of Buddhism, and cognitive psychology. These definitions differ, yet are not always mutually exclusive. In fact, the person who developed the most widely used definition of mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn, has defined mindfulness in different ways at different times, this includes a definition that is similar to my description above. One particular concern of mine is that mindfulness as applied by Psychologists should be grounded in sound psychological theory, and research whenever possible. Not on received wisdom, or poorly understood concepts from other traditions. When searching for resources about mindfulness, or mindfulness based interventions, whether on this website or elsewhere, engage your critical sense, - 'buyer beware'.