I thought it might be helpful to clarify what we mean by mindfulness. It’s more than simply being present in the moment (although that’s important).
I like this definition from Jon Kabat-Zinn. It’s both succinct and comprehensive. Let’s take a look at it.
Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.
Notice that mindfulness is defined as paying attention in three ways:
- On purpose…
- In the present moment…
I want to point out that mindfulness isn’t something we have to manufacture inside ourselves. It’s a natural capacity we all share even if we don’t always use it. Here’s a situation where you have probably practiced great mindfulness without even knowing it.
Imagine a close friend comes to you feeling really embarrassed about something. As they struggle to share what’s on their mind, what is your natural response?
Don’t you pay attention, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment?
Experientially, your heart is open, you convey warmth and sympathy, you treat them with kindness, maybe offer a smile.
Kindness and compassion arise naturally when we’re present to ourselves and others without judgment.
Mindfulness meditation is a practice of greeting everything coming at you with the same openness, warmth and attention. And doing it deliberately, on purpose, in order to develop this capacity within yourself.
And that’s it! That’s what mindfulness is.
Try It Now
Here’s a five minute exercise I invite you to do once a day for the next week.
Think of a time when you felt really embarrassed. For me, it was back in grade school. We were all lined up to get weighed by the school nurse. I was the overweight girl feeling self-conscious waiting her turn. As I stepped up on the scales, one of the boys came up behind me, saw how much I weighed, and blurted it out to the whole line. Needless to say, I was mortified.
Can you recall an embarrassing or difficult moment in your life?
If so, bring it to mind now and spend just five minutes holding yourself and all that embarrassment with the same kind of warmth and tenderness you would hold a dear friend. You can even give yourself a hug if that will help to create a space of open, non-judgmental awareness within yourself.
Do this for about five minutes. Then move on with your day.
If you’d like, share how this went for you in the comments below.
Discover what mindfulness truly is and is not, plus learn how to how to work with difficulty in your life and break the patterns of reactivity with The Power of Awareness – and Online Mindfulness Training program with Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield.