Mindfulness is awareness, cultivated by paying attention in a sustained and particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. – Jon Kabat-Zinn
Mindfulness practice has changed my life.
This ancient practice, which is over a thousand years old, has roots in Buddhism, Hinduism, and contemplative Christianity. Jon Kabat-Zinn, whom I have quoted above, introduced mindfulness in the West in 1979 with his introduction of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.
MBSR is an eight week program designed to help those with chronic pain or illness reclaim their lives by connecting with the present moment. Instead of dwelling in the future or the past, mindfulness is about being with whatever is present… pain, sadness, joy, depression. Instead of judging the emotion as good or bad, mindfulness invites us to be curious, patient with ourselves, and trust our experience.
Mindfulness practice has helped me accept my life as it is unfolding. The challenges of living with multiple sclerosis and the potential for dementia are pretty scary at times. When I find myself frustrated because this is not the life I imagined for myself or fearful of the future – I am suffering. Mindfulness offers an end to suffering with its focus on staying present with what is here now, letting go of the past or fear of the future.
Mindfulness practice cultivates awareness. The moment that I discover that my mind has become lost in worry or fear about what might be, that is awareness. – Andy Puddicombe
Awareness is “I have thoughts, feelings, actions”… but I am more than my thoughts, feelings or actions… I am the one observing my thoughts, feelings or actions. When we are aware of our thoughts we get to choose how we respond.
Mindfulness is most often taught through meditation practice. In mindfulness meditation, thoughts and feelings are not ignored. Acknowledging thoughts as they arise, without judgment, allows greater insight and awareness into our life.
Mindfulness meditation, sometimes called vipassana or insight meditation, helps to reduce stress/anxiety, lowers the heart rate, and invites us to cultivate self-awareness and loving, kind compassion towards ourselves and others.
Interested in learning more about mindfulness? I suggest the following:
Mindfulness for Beginners; Reclaiming the Present Moment and Your Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn (includes a CD)
Meditation for Beginners by Jack Kornfield (includes a CD)
Real Happiness; The Power of Meditation by Sharon Salzberg (includes a CD)
Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of the Buddha by Tara Brach
Recent scientific findings on the benefits of practicing mindfulness (adapted from Mindful.org).
- University of New Mexico researchers found that participation in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course decreased anxiety and binge eating.
- Office workers who practiced MBSR for twenty minutes a day reported an average 11% reduction in perceived stress.
- Eight weeks of MBSR resulted in an improvement in the immune profiles of people with breast or prostate cancer, which corresponded with decreased depressive symptoms.
- A prison offering Vipassana meditation training for inmates found that those who completed the course showed lower levels of drug use, greater optimism, and better self-control, which could reduce recidivism.
- Fifth-grade girls who did a ten-week program of yoga and other mindfulness practices were more satisfied with their bodies and less preoccupied with weight.
- A mix of cancer patients who tried MBSR showed significant improvement in mood and reduced stress. These results were maintained at a checkup six months later.
- The likelihood of recurrence for patients who had experienced three or more bouts of depression was reduced by half through Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, an offshoot of MBSR.
- After fifteen weeks of practicing MBSR, counseling students reported improved physical and emotional well-being, and a positive effect on their counseling skills and therapeutic relationships.