What is Mindfulness?
The simple definition of mindfulness is something along the lines of “intentionally bringing one’s attention to the experiences of the present moment without judgment”.
When you ask most people to define mindfulness, they either don’t know how to explain it but have heard of it, or they state something referring to paying attention in the present moment. This is where people’s understanding of mindfulness generally falls short - because they miss the second major component of the practice: nonjudgment.
As humans, we are evolutionarily developed to make quick, instinctual judgments. It seems nearly impossible to stop that urge to judge and be okay with everything we’re thinking, feeling and experiencing at any given moment. But that’s what mindfulness asks us to do. It asks us to accept the present moment as it is.
This acceptance, of the unfathomably glorious and the punch-you-in-the-gut horrible things life has to offer, is rooted in the practice in non-attachment. Remember this from Buddhism 101? Buddha’s first Noble Truth “to live is to suffer”. The second is “the origin of suffering is attachment”. Attachment is what makes things hurt, and leads to disappointment when something doesn’t go our way, or someone doesn’t call us back, or get us that birthday present we’ve been hinting at for the last 2 months dangit!
We tend to pay attention to the paying attention part, then totally forget about the fact that we’re not supposed to be attaching to and judging ourselves for those thoughts and feelings we’re experiencing on a moment-to-moment basis. It can be an especially hard practice when we notice an emotion we would prefer to not have around - then go deep down the rabbit hole of analyzing it, judging it, and wondering why it’s still inhabiting your mind, watching tv and eating potato chips while wiping its grimy little fingers on the couch like a lousy guest.
All of this is to say mindfulness can sometimes seem impossibly hard to practice, you might even argue it goes against human nature. But, talk to anyone who has practiced mindfulness for years and you’d be hard-pressed to find a naysayer.
Why? Because once we bring our awareness to the feelings we have and then allow them to exist without trying to praise them or shove them under the rug, we are able to feel and process them in such a beautiful way. This processing, this act of mindfulness, can lead to so much inner peace and happiness. The third noble truth says “the cessation of suffering is attainable”. That’s why the practice of mindfulness, though difficult, is worth it. This practice helps us to be aware of our feelings and accept them, thus relieving us from the suffering we could feel if we wanted them to be different. Mindfulness, or right mindfulness, is one of the eight methods (or the eightfold path) Buddha recommended for removing suffering from our lives.
Mindfulness has helped millions of people stress less and lead happier lives. If you’re looking for ways to practice mindfulness, see an article I wrote about adding more mindfulness to your life.
Mindfulness definition: Wikipedia
Four Noble Truths: Zenlightenment