What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is awareness of the present moment. It is a normal function of the mind that we all experience throughout the course of our lives. Meditation is one way to develop our capacity to be mindful. We can be mindful of physical sensations in the body, thoughts, feelings, emotions, sounds, or anything else in our subjective experience. Although mindfulness is simple, it is not easy to do continuously. That is one of the main reasons that meditation can be difficult in the beginning. A strategy that many people find helpful at the start of their meditation practice is to keep expectations low. Starting with 5-10 minutes of meditation per day is a perfectly suitable entry point and many of the benefits of mindfulness will still develop with this small commitment. The scientific study of mindfulness meditation is still in its early stages but there have been high-quality, randomized-controlled trials that demonstrate its usefulness for healthy and clinical populations. Check out the research section in Part 5 if you are interested in exploring this further. There are many good resources that are freely available online to help you get started with mindfulness meditation, such as this video from Dan Harris, ABC News anchor and co-founder of the popular meditation app Ten Percent Happier. The other apps listed below are also a great place to start. If you’re interested in exploring the Buddhist roots of mindfulness, there are additional links in Part 6.
What is mindfulness not?
Mindfulness is not esoteric, spiritual, or religious. While it is true that mindfulness was first systematized by Eastern religions over 2500 years ago, such as Buddhism, it does not require participation in these traditions. It also does not require us to sit in a special cross-legged posture. We can be mindful while sitting, lying down, moving the body, or engaging in any other activity. However, in the beginning it can be helpful to sit quietly with our eyes closed and it is important to be comfortable and relaxed when meditating. Mindfulness does not require us to prevent thinking, we simply want to be aware of what is happening in the present moment. This includes both pleasant and unpleasant experiences. Over time, we learn to be less reactive when things don’t go our way.
Written in Collaboration with Gray Meckling