Everyone is talking about mindfulness! Doctors, academics, neuroscientists, journalists, psychologists and politicians alike all seem to be embracing the practice, proclaiming its benefits, and pushing forward what might perhaps be described as the mindful revolution.
Now whilst it is wonderful that mindfulness has entered the vernacular, I have noticed that not everyone who is excited by the term has a clear idea of what it actually is, so here are my top 5 ways of introducing it!
1. The Rebrand of Meditation
Mindfulness and meditation are one and the same, so why are we all talking about mindfulness?
Whilst it would perhaps be simpler to have stuck with the word meditation, the reasons for introducing a new vocabulary are pretty solid. For most people, the word meditation brings with it some baggage. Meditation conjurs-up visions of holy monks, historical religious figures and intense spiritual experiences which seem distant, unattainable and far away from Western daily-life.
These religious and spiritual connotations were thought by the forebears of modern mindfulness (Jon Kabat-Zinn and others) to be likely to act as a barrier to many of us in the West, easily put off, as we may be, by anything that smells a bit religious or fluffy.
In exchanging mindfulness for meditation, the new generation of writers and teachers were able to strip out the religious and spiritual aspects and make the practice more accessible and practical.
2. A Practice of Silence
Human beings do not thrive in a state of constant noise. Simple as that.
The reason why there are now thousands of research papers showing the beneficial effects of mindfulness on almost all aspects of human life is because silence (introduced back into the human experience through mindfulness) is foundational to human wellbeing. This makes sense when you also consider that central to every wisdom tradition in history is a practice of silence in the form of prayer, meditation, contemplation, reflection or some other variant.
Silence is therefore essential. It is as primary as water, food or shelter. If you are not connected in some way to silence in your life, you may be starving and not even know it.
3. The Craft of Consciousness
Mindfulness gives you the tools to develop a Craft of Consciousness because it allows you to navigate your internal world of conscious awareness (thoughts, emotions, daydreaming, beliefs, attitude, hopes, and fears) with competence. Commitment to, and practice of the mindfulness principles later brings about excellence and mastery.
Whilst many of us are great at navigating the external world, moving from A-B, getting things done, communicating, acting, and pursuing our goals, few show excellence or even a high level of competence in navigating their interiority. Mindfulness helps us even-out our proficiency and bring the same degree of care and skill to both inner and outer worlds.
4. The Off-Switch
In class the most frequent reflection I hear is that people cannot stop thinking. In fact they report that they are besieged by, even overwhelmed by a never-ending torrent of thoughts.
It is as if instead of noticing the stream of thought that flows through the forest of consciousness, they have fallen in, and do not know how to get out.
Mindfulness allows us to meet mind anew. By bringing compassionate awareness, curiosity and acceptance to what we find, we learn to live with ourselves: warts and all. In fact, through practice, the mind finally realises that you can survive without identifying with its constant data stream, and then, in its place, the tranquil thought-free awareness can arise.
5. Mindfulness is Me-Time
I also like to think of mindfulness as a method of turning all your time into me-time. That is because mindfulness gives you the skills to be consciously present and available in every single moment. It increases the quality of your awareness. It improves your user-experience.
When I sit in the mornings by the window looking out over the garden, and attending to my breath, I delight in the luxury of those moments focussed solely on that which is arising within me.
This is mindfulness, the ultimate ritual of self-care.
Words : Neil Seligman
Founder of The Conscious Professional, Corporate Mindfulness Expert and Author of how-to guide 100 Mindfulness Meditations.