What is mindfulness?
A simple analogy is to think of the mind being like the BBC News! – incessantly broadcasting, commenting, analysing, alerting, hypothesising – as if in our head there is a journalist who reportseverything, in an exaggerated and indiscriminate way. We wonder what is good for us, what is bad, what is nice, what is unpleasant, what threatens us; we worry about what we have done, and what we haven’t; what we may do, and what we may not; what we should, and how, and so on…
All this is thinking – not being.
And there’s nothing wrong with thinking; it’s thanks to this ability that we can solve problems, plan futures, and learn from past mistakes. However, our thinking can become so dominant that it becomes too loud… too intrusive… too threatening… with so many thoughts, images, scenarios that there are times when we stop functioning properly – and we cannot take full advantage of the present moment. Life imagined in the future becomes lived in the present!
We can lose touch with what we are actually experiencing in the present moment – and In such a weakened state, of inattention, we can often act ‘in automatic’, prompted by our imagined fears and fantasies. This is called ‘catastrophising’. Mindfulness brings us back in touch with ourselves in ‘the now’ – with our bodies, thoughts, emotions, intentions – and ultimately our ‘true self’. So, mindfulness is the ability to notice where we are, physically and mentally, and by bringing our attention back to ‘what is’ rather than being in our fantasies, fears, hopes or dreams. The most frequently quoted definition, provided by Jon Kabat-Zinn, is:
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally”.