Written By Ivette Moutzouris
What is Mindfulness? It is a term that many Psychologists and other health professionals use and it is important to have a basic understanding of it.
Mindfulness is “the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment…”as described by Wikipedia.
Mindfulness is not pretending that we don’t have problems or ignoring the problems we may have as some might think. It is essentially accepting the moment and taking time out to slow down and quieten ourselves so that we can enjoy, take in, reflect with non- judgement, learn and grow and of course this also means accept. It is basically the opposite of being frantic and worrying and allowing our minds to take over with all the possible negatives that might eventuate or dwelling on what has been.
Mindfulness is therefore not only an exercise that helps to slow down and take in, it is also a way of life and a change of attitude that can help us to move forward and grow as individuals instead of remaining stuck. It reminds me of a movie I watch recently called “Eat, pray and love” which depicts an unsettled woman’s journey to find peace after a relationship breakdown. She journey’s through three different countries where she meets interesting people and learns new valuable lessons in life. Her first stop is in Italy where she interacts with the locals and spends a lot of time eating and enjoying life in a way that she has previously taken for granted. A scene in a barber shop is particularly interesting where the locals are trying to teach her and her American friend that they have lost the ability to find pleasure in life even though they come from a culture full of entertainment. This idea reminds me of mindfulness which basically is the act of choosing to make your mind full of what is around you, paying particular attention instead of ignoring it. When taken to a deeper level it involves learning and accepting what has been and what is and kindly learning to nurture yourself.
At a basic level you can learn Mindfulness awareness very easily by choosing on any one of your five senses to focus on. This is a very simple exercise that can be done anywhere and has health benefits as well as teaches us to focus and slow down, notice and enjoy. This is very important considering that we come from a society that demands our attention and feeds us a lot of visual stimuli at a very fast pace, usually in the form of internet, television, consumerism, phone and other communication or entertainment devices. Constantly engaging in this type of stimulation has shown to have a negative effect on our ability to focus and pay attention in other areas. John Arden states that we have all the necessary ingredients for an attention-deficit society.
So when beginning to practice a mindful exercise choose a sense, for example, your sense of seeing or hearing might be a good place to start. Sit where you are and focus on what you can see or hear, noticing details and changes. If intrusive thoughts enter your mind it is important not to get agitated or stressed about these just put that thought aside for the moment and continue with your noticing exercise. Continue this until you feel more relaxed and at peace. I often get people to tell me what they have experienced and most people say that they noticed things that were previously taken for granted, for instance, the sun setting, or children playing or the sounds of birds singing and that they felt more content and relaxed. This simple exercise gives you a mental break from life’s many demands and helps you to not take simple pleasures for granted. It also helps you to have a break from allowing intense emotions to escalate. This doesn’t solve life’s big problems but it is the beginning of a healthier life where we are active in giving ourselves some time out to rest, enjoy, take in and reflect. Once you have slowed down enough to reflect you may find you can think more clearly and evaluate the situation from another perspective.
As you finish reading this article I encourage you to take some time out to practice Mindfulness and make it a regular part of your life. There are also books and courses that can give you more information and teach you other exercises that you may find valuable. Psychologists and Counsellors who teach and promote these methods can also help you to use Mindfulness within the context of therapy and can help you explore emotions and thoughts.
M. Williams, J. Teasdale, Z. Segal and J. Kabat-Zinn (2007). “The Mindful Way through Depression – Freeing yourself from chronic unhappiness”.
Russ Harris (2012). “The Reality Slap – Finding Peace and Fulfillment When Life Hurts”.
John Arden (2010). “Rewire Your Brain – Think Your Way to a Better Life”.