Mindfulness is a practice that has become exceedingly popular recently. Only a few years ago the general public would not be familiar with the term, whereas today it’s something we hear about all the time in a range of different contexts.
In some ways this is a good thing: mindfulness is a great tool to be aware of and it can be used to greatly improve your concentration, awareness and happiness. But at the same time, it’s also a bad thing: because it has been misappropriated in many instances and many people don’t actually really understand what it means anymore.
With that in mind, let’s take an in-depth look at what mindfulness is and what it isn’t – and how you can start using it to improve your life.
Mindfulness is often used to describe a type of meditation. Specifically, ‘mindfulness meditation’ is a type of meditation that involves reflecting on the contents of your own mind and how they might be affecting you.
Whereas the point of some forms of meditation – such as transcendental meditation – is to completely ‘empty’ your mind, the point of mindfulness is instead to simply detach yourself from your thoughts and become an observer. This way, you can prevent them from affecting you in the same way and you can also gain a greater understanding of the contents of your own thoughts.
Often this is described as ‘watching the thoughts go past like clouds’. The idea is not to engage with them or let them affect you but simply to observe them and to later reflect on how they might impact on your happiness.
By doing this, mindfulness allows us to take some time out of our stressful day to remove ourselves from our thoughts and thereby get some rest and relaxation.
But it’s not really just about meditation. What mindfulness also means is being constantly aware of your own thoughts as you go throughout your day. Some people will tell you to be ‘mindful’ of your body, or ‘mindful’ of your environment. But really what you should be focussing on is just what you’re mindful of.
Next time you go out for a nice walk with family, or next time you do something else that you should be enjoying, just make a note of whether you’re really focussed on what you’re doing and whether you’re actively engaging in it… or is your mind elsewhere? Are you actually worrying about work? Or stressing about other things?
Mindfulness teaches us to be more aware of our thoughts as that way, we can decide that we’re not going to let them affect us and because that way we can then make the conscious effort to refocus and to decide to be happy.
Mindfulness is not mysticism or linked to religion and it’s not a cure-all therapeutic technique. All this is a tool and better yet, a state of mind. With practice, you can learn to be more in-tune with your own thoughts and that can change everything.