Mindfulness is a bit of buzzword at the moment, but its origins are thousands of years old. It is a foundation practice of Buddhism and Hinduism, and it has influenced traditional medicine practices, such as Ayurveda from India and Traditional Chinese Medicine. It was introduced into Western psychology in the 1970’s. Mindfulness is the focussing of your attention on the current moment, being aware of the purpose (of your thoughts or actions) and being compassionate about what you observe.
Why is mindfulness important?
Mindfulness calms the mind and increases our clarity and confidence in decision-making. By settling our mind, minimising the distraction caused by our thoughts and emotions, we create space in our mind and our 24 hours.
Our mind naturally creates thoughts. When we place our attention onto our thoughts we create stories. These stories can be useful when they assist in planning for an event or activity, but some stories generate strong emotions, which destabilise our ability to make clear and confident choices.
How do we introduce mindfulness into our day?
The first step towards becoming more mindful, is to be aware of the traffic (voices—thoughts, beliefs, emotions) in your mind. Mindfulness meditations help us to observe what is occurring in our mind. Be focussing our attention on an object, such as the pattern of our breathing, we soon become aware of this traffic. The voices in our mind may distract our attention away to our thoughts or feelings of discomfort in the body e.g. sore shoulder or numb foot. We can deal with these distractions by letting them go, transforming them or understanding that a thought or sensation is impermanent or transitory—it will pass.
I was fortunate to attend a one day silence meditation at the Kunsang Yeshe Retreat last Sunday. Venerable Päldron explained that whilst the mind naturally generates thoughts and ideas, mindfulness allows us to direct our attention to where we choose. As mentioned above, thoughts and ideas can be useful when planning an event, but they are a distraction when we are wishing to focus our attention on something else. In week 3 of the mindfulness sequence I will explore simple meditation practices, and how to deal with distractions in meditation and in our day-to-day activities.
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
As with any new activity or practice that we choose to introduce, there have to be benefits for us to maintain it. From a Buddhist perspective, being mindful supports our happiness through a calm and compassionate mind. Our mind directs our thoughts, speech and actions. We have the choice whether these are helpful or harmful to others and ourselves.
Benefits of mindfulness include:
- Increased self-awareness of our thoughts and actions
- Improved focus and concentration
- Decreased stress arising from negative thoughts and feelings
- Increased compassion towards self and others
- Increased ability to introduce healthy eating and lifestyle choices
- Improved health through the reduction of blood pressure
Part 2, next week, of the mindfulness sequence explores how mindfulness practices can improve our health and wellbeing through our choice of foods and way of eating. See my post on mindful eating.