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The Meaning of Mindfulness

Updated on January 30, 2015
JohnMello profile image

JohnMello is a writer, composer, musician and the author of books for children and adults.

Mindfulnes means paying attention to the smallest things right here, right now
Mindfulnes means paying attention to the smallest things right here, right now | Source

Mindfulness is a simple technique designed to help you live in the moment. It isn't a therapy so much as a way of life, a way of learning to pay attention in the present moment. It has its roots in the traditions of Buddhism but has been transformed by 20th century self-help enthusiasts into something more practical, something achievable by anyone regardless of their beliefs or affiliations.

The concept developed out of an experiment conducted by microbiologist Jon Kabat-Zinn in the late 1970s, when he and his colleagues at the University of Massachusetts created their Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR) to help people deal more effectively with stress-related problems.

Understanding Mindfulness

The concept of mindfulness can be confusing the first time you come across it. It's been summed up as a way of "paying attention on purpose" - in other words, bringing your attention to what you're doing right here, right now.

That's easier said than done. You've probably experienced times when you were busy doing something but your mind was somewhere else. Activities you do frequently can get taken for granted; you go through the motions without giving them much thought. If you think about it, though, what that really means is that you're not living life to its full potential.

Why is "living in the present" so important? The past is a memory you relive in the present moment, and the future is an occasion or event you think about in the present moment. You can only ever exist in the present moment, so it makes sense to make the most of that precious time while you can.

Live for the moment because tomorrow never comes
Live for the moment because tomorrow never comes | Source

How could you benefit most from mindfulness?

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Mindfulness Breathing

One of the simplest ways to get to grips with the idea of mindfulness is to focus on your breathing. If you think about it, as soon as you turn your attention to your breathing you can't help but be in the present moment. Breathing is something you only do right now, so it makes a good focal point for beginning your mindfulness practice.

To practice mindfulness breathing, simply draw your attention to your breathing. Try this short exercise now:

  • Is it fast or slow? Deep or shallow?
  • Are you breathing in through your mouth or nose?
  • Are your shoulders lifting when you breathe?
  • Can you notice how breath travels in and down and then up and out of your body?

If you managed to do it, then congratulations. You've just completed your first mindfulness exercise. Whenever your attention starts to wander during a session of mindfulness meditation, simply bring it back to your breathing.

Wash the dishes just to wash the dishes, and bring your attention to it totally
Wash the dishes just to wash the dishes, and bring your attention to it totally | Source

A Mindful Moment

According to standard dictionaries, the word "mindfulness" means being aware or being 'mindful' of your thoughts. But mindfulness as a technique is more than that: your thoughts are simply another thing you can bring your attention to. It's not about thinking, it's about being there.

Enjoying a Life of Mindfulness

When you think about mindfulness, meditation, and similar techniques, there's a tendency to view them as special practices that only take place at certain times. It's common to practice meditation, for example, first thing in the morning or at some other time of day when there's available peace and quiet. But mindfulness doesn't have to work that way.

Rather than setting aside a few minutes here and there, why not make mindfulness a meaningful part of your everyday life? Here are some simple methods you can use to do just that:

Notice things around you as if for the first time
Notice things around you as if for the first time | Source

Everyday Mindfulness Techniques

You experience the world around you with your senses, so that's an easy way to start weaving mindfulness into your life. Until it becomes a natural part of your day, try experimenting with one of the following ideas:

  • Sight - look at something that's near you that you normally take for granted. It could be a photo, a vase, an item on a desk or table, or the palm of your hand. Bring your attention to it and really look at it. Notice the shape, texture, color and construction like you've never seen it before. Don't try to analyze it, just look at it and take in its features and attributes.
  • Sound - at some point in your day just sit or stand wherever you are and listen. See how many different sounds you can hear. Try to distinguish whether they're loud, soft, high, low, pleasant, jarring, near or far away.
  • Touch - notice the physical sensations you experience throughout the day, such as the wind on your face or in your hair, the feeling of your feet on the ground as you stand or walk, the sensation of your back against the chair, how it feels when you rub your hands together to wash and dry them, and so on.
  • Smell - scents are all around you, from the shampoo in your hair to your partner's cologne, the aroma of coffee at the office, the refreshing scent of fresh air, dinner cooking in the oven, chewing gum in the mouths of passing strangers, etc.
  • Taste - notice the textures and flavors when you take a bite of an apple or a sandwich. Feel your mouth and tongue as they work to move it around, the food as it slips down your throat, and the way the different flavors explode inside your mouth and activate your taste buds.

Being Mindful

 
 
M
moment to moment attention
I
in the here and now
N
non-judgmental attitude
D
detaching from unhelpful thoughts
F
forgiving and being grateful
U
unconditional acceptance
L
learning with a beginner's attitude

The Benefits of Mindfulness

There's no doubt that following the mindfulness mindset will help you relax - but relaxation is only one positive side effect. Research has shown that regular mindfulness practice leads to a whole host of benefits, including the following:

  • Lower anxiety levels
  • Better sleep experience
  • Decrease in health problems
  • Greater sense of self confidence
  • More optimistic outlook
  • Less stress
  • Better concentration
  • Improved memory

And this is by no means an exhaustive list. Mindfulness meditation is known to boost the immune system, make it easier for people to kick bad habits and addictions, and help fight serious illnesses from diabetes to cancer. With so much going for it, it's a wonder more people aren't doing it already.

Try it yourself to discover what could well be the secret to a happier and healthier life.

Use mindfulness to truly appreciate the wonder that's all around you
Use mindfulness to truly appreciate the wonder that's all around you | Source

About JohnMello

I'm a freelance writer, author, musician and composer. Visit my self help blog at http://theselfhelpzone.blogspot.co.uk/ for lots of freebies.

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    • JohnMello profile image
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      JohnMello 2 years ago from England

      Thanks Kristen! Appreciate it...

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      John, this was a great hub on how to meditate with mindfulness to lead a healthier life. Voted up for useful!

    • JohnMello profile image
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      JohnMello 3 years ago from England

      Thanks marieryan... and you're right. Now I just need to get around to writing them...

    • marieryan profile image

      Marie Ryan 3 years ago from Andalusia, Spain

      A very clearly-written article on a highly complex subject. It's much, much more than the "Carpe Diem" philosophy :). I understand another hubber who commented previously about incorporating emotions into the spectrum.....but why not? I feel your article was an 'introduction' to mindfulness and that you may have more up your sleeve. I am watching and waiting!

    • JohnMello profile image
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      JohnMello 4 years ago from England

      Thanks Laura. No problem... other points of view are always welcome. To be honest, it took me a while to grasp the subject -- I had to ghost write an e-book about it! It's supposed to be simple, at least in practice, but like all those things it can be difficult to put into words. I'm thinking about adding to it in the future, and hopefully I'll be able to clarify it a bit better.

    • Laura Schneider profile image

      Laura Schneider 4 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

      JohnMello, I apologize for the tone of my response to your article. As several other hubbers here can attest, I have been frustratingly trying to grasp "mindfulness" and I'm not making much progress yet (the fault is mine, no one else's). Upon re-reading my response, I was ashamed that my reply to your article could easily have sounded like negative criticism, when in fact I was simply very frustrated and confused with the concept "mindfulness" at that time, and I still am. You probably interpreted my comment negatively (I would have, also), and for that I sincerely apologize. It is a wonderful article, very well written and organized I voted it up and awesome and useful at the time, believe it or not. I look forward to your upcoming articles with hope that I may someday understand what it really means to practice "mindfulness". Again, I am sorry for responding so quickly, my mind racing, rather than thinking it through and commenting later in a more calm state of mind that would be something you would interpret as neutral confusion. (Emanate Presence has suffered from my unguarded tongue in the past, also, about mindfulness--a sprite that still eludes my grasp by a few quanta, if not inches. Sorry again to you, too EP! :-) ) Thanks for taking time to write this article--obviously it is a complex subject for at least some of us idiots to learn. :-) Cheers! P.S. I love the line drawing at the head of the article! Simple and elegant.

    • JohnMello profile image
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      JohnMello 4 years ago from England

      Thanks Jennifer Suchey for your positive feedback... and fan mail!

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      Jennifer Suchey 4 years ago

      I really enjoyed this hub, probably more than any I've read so far. In regard to the part about breathing, this reminded me of something I recently read about post traumatic stress, and how when you remember a traumatic event, it's as if you're right there in the moment. Your brain doesn't process it as a past memory, but as a current thing happening right now, which triggers a physical reaction of anxiety, fear, or whatever the case may be. To help take your mind off the thoughts that are causing the reaction, it is recommended to focus on the physical reaction you are having. For me, when I get anxious about a painful memory, I start breathing heavy and fast, so I try to focus on my breathing, just my breathing, the physical act of my lungs and possibly abdomen filling with air and letting it out. It calms me down.

      I've also read about how healthy it is to do breathing exercises each day, which goes along with what you shared in hub as well. I've been planning to write on this subject soon.

      Anyway, I loved your hub and plan to research the topic of being mindful further. Thanks!

    • Laura Schneider profile image

      Laura Schneider 4 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

      This seems like only the easy half (at most) of the puzzle. What about your feelings? When you're viewing something, for example, and just taking it in as-is, isn't it important to simultaneously take in your feelings about what you're viewing? If you're viewing a hummingbird in flight you can take in that information like an automaton, or like a human who has feelings initially, throughout, and at the end of their examination period. One person might admire the hummingbird at work, then be saddened when it flies away. Another might be apprehensive and then annoyed at the hummingbird's presence there yet again and, indeed, feels very annoyed when the little bird "attacks" him/her for the Nth time. Mindfulness surely must involve the emotions, which affect the body (trigger the fight/flight response, love, hate, hunger, anger, and so on).

      I guess I don't understand, though I've tried the methods you've described above, what benefit this type of mindfulness can have unless it also is allowed to take in and similarly consider the emotional reactions, whether for an instant or over time. "learning with a beginner's attitude" has me the most perplexed. How can learning take place if we are doing all of the other mindful exercises correctly? How can we progress? Learning should take into account all of the knowledge we already possess and progress from there, in my way of thinking, not start from scratch as an idiot.

    • JohnMello profile image
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      JohnMello 4 years ago from England

      Thanks mr-veg. Glad you liked it!

    • mr-veg profile image

      mr-veg 4 years ago from Colorado United States

      That's something new I learnt today John !! And I was for sure Mindful while reading it :) ... Voted up and sharing..

    • JohnMello profile image
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      JohnMello 4 years ago from England

      Thanks MDavisatTIERS. Funny how something as simple as breathing can be so effective, isn't it? Glad you liked it...

    • MDavisatTIERS profile image

      Marilyn L Davis 4 years ago from Georgia

      Thank you for this timely reminder to be mindful. Moving, writing, and consulting had left me less than present in this day, and at this time.

      Reading your article and then taking a few moments to breathe and find the quiet center worked; so glad I saw this.