Why so much hype about mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a word attached to so many things; used in different contexts, to describe very different systems, practices and services available today. It’s often quite confusing to remember that mindfulness, and being mindful is actually a simple thing – we tend to overcomplicate it to make it more appealing; because it is not immediately entertaining and may not seem rewarding until we try it a few times!
In a state of mind where we’re focused, and aware we’re focused, we are being mindful. A focus on something is the physical and mental process occurring, when we use our senses to notice something or think about something (or a set of somethings).
When we do this we are aware of the sight, feeling, sound, smell, taste or thought as we concentrate our focus on it. When that attention disperses, we are distracted or start to concentrate our focus on other things going on around us or within us.
Mindfulness is different from just the normal thinking and sensing that we do every day. Because we hold in mind that we are practising to bring our attention back to the something we were focusing on, once we become aware our concentration has shifted and we’re looking at, touching, hearing, smelling, tasting or thinking about something else.
If mindfulness is the state of mind, there are many ways to practice it, so we hold one thing or series of things in our mind – which becomes the object of the practice. This ‘being mindful’ brings a whole host of benefits to us, and depending on our individual circumstances is adapted to our lifestyle and needs. A certain amount of practise is necessary to be able to do this, although with the right support this is surprisingly straightforward.
Our familiarity with this mindful frame of mind increases and we can apply it in different settings, and with less distraction. Mindfulness is a very personal experience and understanding, and it is not necessarily for anyone to teach us what it can do for us, only to support us to become familiar with the process of seeing this for ourselves.
For example we may come to notice whilst being mindful that mind has a tendency to react to things – situations and thoughts in set patterns. We see this in daily life as we notice similar feelings arising in us when we observe certain thoughts, sensations or emotions that arise out of situations and circumstances. Usually we would likely have been oblivious to the sequences of events that give birth to the patterns of thought, sensation and emotion we have. Being mindful however, we come to see ourselves and how our frames of mind have formed more clearly.
How we react to the world around us is largely determined by our thinking, and how we have habitually come to treat similar experiences and situations with the same frames of mind and the same ways of behaving. When we experience pain or discomfort, or observe a thought or memory that is displeasing or awkward for example, we may be naturally inclined to react to this in a wholly different way to when we notice pleasurable experiences, thoughts or memories.
This is reinforced and has become automatic and impulsive, which is helpful to note, because improved emotional regulation, reduced stress and anxiety, the ability to live thorough challenging times without as much of a negative reaction, and a whole host of benefits are realised throughout our understanding and experience of working with the mind.