Over the years, I have introduced many of my clients to the benefits of mindfulness. Mindfulness is a process of bringing attention into the present moment and has its origins in Buddhism. It can be really useful for lessening the symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress as well as other emotional and psychological issues.
My definition of mindfulness is “ the non-judgmental acceptance of your here and now experience.” What does that mean? Well let’s break it down, working backwards.
Firstly, the last bit of the sentence; “…here and now experience.” Ask yourself what actually you are experiencing. When we are low or stressed, often it is a thought or feeling about a situation that we are actually experiencing. For instance, if we have an important meeting tomorrow, well today, now, we are not in the meeting, so it is not our experience. We are having thoughts and feelings about the meeting. Hence our here and now experience is those thoughts and feelings. With mindfulness practice we can learn that thoughts and feelings come and go, rise and fall and so we can control them more appropriately.
Secondly, the first bit of the sentence: “the non-judgmental acceptance..”. This can be a bit tricky. Mindfulness practice invites us to accept. Yet when we have thoughts and feelings that are uncomfortable, such as those described above, for instance, our natural instinct is to confront, challenge, and fight them off.
Rarely does this seem to work. Indeed many of my clients say that engaging in battle with these thoughts and feelings often makes them worse. We also give things a value. We might say, “ tomorrows meeting will be awful” for instance, yet we have no way of truly knowing the outcome of the meeting. The value is what we decide, and that valuing is based on all sorts of things from our past experiences and beliefs. In the example of the important meeting above, one person might, the day before be full of fear and anxiety due to valuing their thoughts and feelings about it negatively. Another person might be excited at the prospect and see the meeting as a great positive opportunity. Same meeting, different perspective. By learning to place no judgment on the thoughts and feelings, other than to recognise them as things that come and go, we can learn through mindfulness practice to have;
“non-judgmental acceptance of our here and now experience.”
But this is of course easier said than done. Mindfulness is one of those things, like art, which is best experienced rather than explained or theorised. So, where to start? The good news is that you don’t have to become a Buddhist monk. (Unless you want to, of course.) You can start here, now. It all starts with the breath. Find a quiet spot, sit down, close your eyes and bring attention to your breathing. Watch the rise and fall of each breath and picture the air in and out. You’ll notice that some thought or feeling will interrupt this attention. That’s fine. Just notice it, accept it and return to watching your breath. Soon enough, another distraction arises. Same thing; notice and return to the breath. Try not to fight with this, just let things come and go, returning to the breath. You might only manage a minute or so at first. Practice every day or as often as you can and pretty soon you’ll be up to ten minutes. Who knows where your mindfulness practice might lead you?