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Definition of Mindfulness
Mindfulness definition by seasoned practitioners and well-known authors
Definition of mindfulness gathered from a select group of contemporary and prominent teachers who are also leading practitioners and masters in the field of mindful living follows:
1) “Mindfulness is the capacity to be aware of what is going on and what is there. It is the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment. To be mindful is to be truly alive, present and at one with those around you and with what you are doing.” - Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk, author, a poet and a teacher who established Plum Village in Southern France; taken from his video “Mindful Movements”.
“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.” - Thich Nhat Hanh
2) “Mindfulness is an open attentiveness to whatever arises. It is basically a development of trust in the present moment and the willingness to contact it directly. . . be it coldness or hotness, hardness or softness, gloom or happiness, darkness or brightness. The present moment can come in limitless forms, always changing. Mindfulness is a tool to bring us back to direct experience of what is going on and this is what we can trust.” – Pema Chodron, an ordained Buddhist nun, a notable figure in Tibetan Buddhism, an author and a resident teacher of Gampo Abbey (a monastery in Nova Scotia, Canada).
3) “Mindfulness is what comes out of paying attention on purpose in the present moment, non judgmentally, as if your life depended on it, that is, nothing else than awareness.” – A working definition of mindfulness by Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder and director of Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Preventative Behavioral Medicine, and an author.
“Mindfulness practice means that we commit fully in each moment to be present; inviting ourselves to interface with this moment in full awareness, with the intention to embody as best we can an orientation of calmness, mindfulness, and equanimity right here and right now.” - Jon Kabat-Zinn
A selection of readings on mindfulness for beginners from Jon Kabat-Zinn
A Closer Look at the Definition of Mindfulness by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Through his various best-seller books and successful seminars particularly on stress management using body-mind techniques, Jon has slowly brought mindfulness practice in the forefront of public awareness especially about its potential impact in the field of behavioral medicine.
Based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s working definition, the goal of mindfulness is awareness. Mindfulness is akin to meditation yet it has taken the practice of meditation into a broader and wider landscape- that is, into everyday life of people in all walks of life, particularly to those who will be open to its practice regardless of nationality, race, economic status, color and creed.
The definition has also highlighted five major elements, such as, (1) paying attention, (2) on purpose, (3) present moment, (4) being non-judgmental, and (5) as if your life depended on it. Let us try to briefly appreciate each element of this definition one by one in a way that can somehow be easily glimpsed.
(1) Paying attention- “Take notice of” is what this means but in a much deeper way and beyond because in paying attention you use not only your physical senses but more of your inner senses – your inner seeing, inner hearing, inner touching, inner tasting and inner smelling. According to the Buddhist tradition, there is another sense which engages the mind and that essentially involves thinking (which directly influences the emotion or feeling). But thinking here does not come from the ego or the self-centered self, but, from beyond thinking which is the heart, your inner core or being and essence. In other words, you take notice with your heart and soul. The object of the mindful practice could be anything perceive by the senses. Yet, following the traditional meditation practice, the breath is the usual object of attention. They say that when you pay attention to your inhalation and exhalation, your mind will be still and quiet.
(2) On purpose – “To just being yourself” is the purpose of mindfulness. You don’t attempt to do anything nor to have something, neither do you want to attain certain level of bliss or purity. Because in mindfulness you are adequate, considering that innately you are already whole, and perfect as you are, whatever the situations externally occurring in your personal life are, at the moment you are peaceful. Mindfulness brings you to this “being” awareness, to your very nature as a human being. Mindfulness is a way of being, not doing or having.
(3) Present moment- You take notice of your breath (if that is the object of your current mindful practice) “now”, not allowing the past nor future thoughts to take center stage. This is not to say that the past nor the future are not important because they are. Yet, in mindfulness you are saying that the present moment is supreme and of prime importance, the main and the key, because it is the only time there is. We were shaped by the lessons of the past but the past will never come again, unless we make them present by paying attention (thinking) and dwelling on the memories now, in which case, we are not being mindful. Our past used to be our present and our future will only come at the present moment. In mindfulness, clock time does not matter. We value most by paying attention to what is present now, not what is coming next (there is no next time), so that when that future comes now, all is well.
(4) Non-judgmental attitude – Judgments veil and distort view into your inner self. A non-judgmental attitude is the willingness to come back to yourself as you are, naked and stripped of personal judgments, criticisms, opinions, or positions, that is, an attitude with a fresh, open and spacious quality. People will have opinions, ideas and judgments, yet, in mindfulness you don’t allow your dislikes or emotions to take over and control or drag you down. If and when these thoughts and feelings come by, and they will surely do come since that is the nature of the mind, just allow them to come, watch and let them go. No suppressing nor resisting them as well as, no criticizing of yourself because if you do, the more they will persist. Mindfulness helps us find and face who we really are as human beings and be comfortable with what we see while enjoying the ride through life’s ups and downs with more calmness and genuineness.
(5) As if your life depended on it – Mindfulness practice allows for the stability of the mind and its connection with the body through awareness. In mindfulness life and awareness become one. Being aware is necessarily synonymous to being awake. Thus, if awareness (life itself) is the goal of mindfulness, then, your life depended on being mindful to be truly alive.
Mindfulness as the Presence of Heart
Mindfulness practice- how and why do we do it
Mindfulness is essentially a meditation practice since it usually begins with a meditation, formal and/or informal.
- Formal meditation practice refers to the traditional sitting or walking meditation in the tradition of Buddhist meditation where the focus of attention is breathing. Setting aside a specified and pre-determined length of time in any designated prayer area or meditation room, and while sitting in a lotus position on a cushion or in a chair, the meditator is aware of his every in breath and out breath.
- It is a period of complete peaceful silence - inside and outside, a rest from thinking, a zone of no thought in terms of the absence of words, feelings or emotions or none use of imagination. Not that thoughts do not come, for they do come; but when they do, the meditator, especially the seasoned ones, are just allowing them to come and go as quickly as possible, without giving them any credence nor power over his mind nor emotions. He goes back to his breath and stay in the silence and would not allow himself to be dragged down by the thought, imagination or emotion. This is a way of befriending whatever comes.
- Informal meditation refers to the turning of everyday activity, any form of activity, into a mini meditation or mindful practice, such as eating, doing physical exercise, going up or down the stairs, washing your hands, washing dishes, cooking, driving, swimming or taking a bath, quiet moments before a meeting starts, looking and smiling at the sky or appreciating the trees and nature, etc.
- By being aware of every aspect of the activity, that is, using all the senses, one consciously observes his every movement, every texture or feel, smell, sound, and color. It is to experience, whatever that is the object of mindfulness, to unfold and come alive, and in the process, experiencing and enjoying it fully, a way of being one with it, body, mind and spirit.
- Mindfulness can be practiced anytime and anywhere. In other words, one need not do a formal sitting meditation in order to do it. You can do a walking meditation while strolling around your neighborhood or while on your way to the bus or train station, going up stairs, etc.. Yet, to a great extent, the daily/anywhere/anytime practice is deepened if it is anchored in a regular meditation, for instance, thirty minutes (or longer) a day, or a number of hours once a week, etc.. The challenge to one’s creativity to bring the practice into everyday life is limitless and could really be simple yet exciting and invigorating.
There was a period in history when meditation is seen and done only in cloistered monasteries of monks and nuns or only practiced by church mystics. Yet, with the passing of time and especially with the advent of the use, capability and ever wide reaching power of the internet, the practice has been brought out into the open, that is, into the mainstream of public awareness. Thanks to the painstaking works, determination and generosity of many spiritual authors, practitioners and teachers, the likes of Jon Kebat-Zinn, Thick Nhat Hanh and many more dedicated souls of individuals and organizations, it has now evolved into a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness awareness is slowly coming into the forefront of holistic health care and to a certain extent, finding its own way, inch by inch, into the realm of behavioral medical practice, especially in the area of stress management, body-mind or overall wellness. Though in a lesser degree, it has also found its way into business and other fields of endeavor. Truly, if one wishes to have a full life (one permeated by joy, peace, love, and deep inner contentment regardless of external realities),then, only sky is the limit through mindfulness.
More from Jon Kabat-Zinn himself on the healing power of mindfulness.
More from Thich Nhat Hanh
Mindfulness movement in the workplace and anywhere
'Mindfulness' as a way of being, a practice that will unlock or unleash one's innate kindness, gentleness, compassion and genuine love for oneself, towards others and for the whole of creation . . . seem to be the direction the mindfulness movement is gearing up to. And for those genuinely interested and will be fortunate to find a supportive group to belong to, this is going to be a path worth exploring.