Mindfulness is a way of bringing awareness to the present moment, gently and without judgment. Being in the present moment means noticing what’s happening right now, both internally in terms of our thoughts, emotions and physical sensations, as well as externally in terms of what’s happening around us.
The majority of us spend little time in the here and now. Instead, our attention is often in the past, caught up in thoughts, analysing previous experiences, ruminating; or alternatively it is in the future, wondering what may be round the corner or worrying about next week, next month, next year. This means we often don’t notice what’s going on or what we’re doing. For example, how often have we driven somewhere with very little memory of how we got there? How often do we clean our teeth, eat or shower, barely aware of what we’re doing? We can function because our automatic pilot takes over, and sometimes this is helpful. But the down side of our automatic pilot is that we often respond to situations, thoughts and emotions in a habitual, non-thinking way…and sometimes this can be detrimental to our wellbeing.
Bringing our awareness to the present moment and accepting things as they are, without judgment, enables us to step back from our automatic behaviour and habitual ways of thinking and feeling, and start to see things more clearly. This new level of clarity can help us to respond more wisely and make choices more helpful to our wellbeing.
Stepping back from judgment
Being non-judgmental is a challenge. We have ideas in our minds about how we think things should be and for many of us we have spent a long time perfecting our inner critic. However, in the process of analysing something as good, bad or otherwise, our awareness is no longer in the present moment and stress, anxiety, anger or disappointment may start to arise when we view our experience as falling short of our expectations. Learning to observe without judgment also allows us, over time, to start to see things as they truly are, rather than through the hazy lens of unhelpful biases and conditioned beliefs.
Why is mindfulness so popular?
People often comment that mindfulness helps with relaxation. Research is also showing that mindfulness may be beneficial for a whole range of conditions including stress, worry and anxiety, depression, sleep problems, skin complaints and pain. In fact, a form of mindfulness practice called Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy is now recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for the treatment of recurrent depression.
Mindfulness doesn’t necessarily eliminate the sources of pressure in our lives, but it can help us to live more easily with difficult experiences and support us in making clearer decisions which may be more helpful to our wellbeing and quality of life. Being fully in the present moment also gives the mind a break from its usual internal chatter (particularly helpful if the chatter is negative or critical) and can improve our overall sense of calm.
To experience the beneficial effects of mindfulness, come along to one of our courses. I can also recommend the books, Mindfulness Plain and Simple by Oli Doyle and Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman for straightforward introductions to mindfulness.
© Michelle Drapeau, 2017