Much Ado about Mindfulness

There is a big hype surrounding mindfulness. People are taking classes, reading and writing books, and proclaiming themselves to be experts. But really, mindfulness is just practicing awareness.

Practicing awareness is something we do all the time. We need to be aware of where our feet are in order to put on our shoes. We need to be aware of what we think in order to consciously remember that we need to do an errand. We need to become aware of how our math-mind works in order to learn more complex mathematical skills. Everyone is already practicing awareness all the time. It’s just that, up to a point it is considered obvious and normal. And beyond that point it is considered a ‘special activity’ or ‘something that’s not for me’.

So, just go beyond that point. Start paying attention to things you don’t normally pay attention to. For any problem, there is a simple getting-started formula: get to know the problem well and acknowledge it.

Mindfulness courses are a way of “deepening” your awareness. You are practicing awareness in a new context, with particular instructions, and so your insights will be different from your every-day “aha’s”. Also, since it is a meditative practice, mindfulness aims to make you aware of “deeper” parts of yourself.

Deepening your awareness in this way happens automatically when you slow-down and relax more. This also means that when you are living a fast-paced life, where relaxation means slouching on the couch with your favorite tv show, your awareness will likely not be able to go so deep (you might notice a big difference when you’re on holiday) That’s fine. In fact, you don’t want to rush your relaxation :).

When you slow down, you tend to notice different things. If your life is fast paced and it feels right or unavoidable that way then work at that pace. Become aware of the things that are important to you at that speed. If you were up in the Himalayas living a different life, different things would matter to you. Our lives have different shapes and speeds to suit our needs.

So, don’t worry about being mindful (and ‘living in the now’, and ‘being on the road to enlightenment’) Just practice stretching your awareness to new things and places inside of you a little at a time. Go slow. We all have an inner rhythm that dictates the most comfortable, healthy and productive pace for us.

It doesn’t matter how or where you practice awareness. In fact, multitasking is preferable. Make a (mental) note to consciously pay attention to how you do a particular activity while you’re doing it (what are you thinking, how does your body feel, what happens around you, how do others respond to you) and you’ll likely learn more about yourself than you do when you try very hard to sit still and focus on your breathing. Enjoy!

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1 patrick kennedy February 26, 2012

For me mindfulness is simply paying attention to and really participating in living.

2 Caroline van Kimmenade February 26, 2012

Hi Patrick, yes I think that’s what it is too.

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