I’m curious: How do you describe your own mindfulness practice, now that you have experience as a mindfulness practitioner, be it regular or irregular, fledgling or badass?
During the introductory courses I teach for Mindfulness Works NZ, I like to encourage participants to come up with their own definition of mindfulness practice during the course. This is not merely a mental exercise or wordplay, but a really good trick to help deepen your understanding of what you’re actually doing when you are meditating. Writing it down makes it even more powerful. Repeating it to yourself a few times a day like a mantra: boom!
First of all, a definition or description is essential to help reminding yourself what mindfulness is not. It is, for instance, not a relaxation method (although it leads to relaxation), it is not a method to become enlightened (though it may serve as preparation for renunciation), it is not a way to improve yourself (though you may effortlessly change in ways that please you) nor to change your circumstances (though it will help you have a clear understanding of your current situation and possibly your next moves). And on and on.
Secondly, having your own definition helps strengthen your connection to the (idea of) practice and thereby assist you in “keeping it up”. It will also help to nurture (or initiate) an amicable, if not love relationship with your practising of mindfulness. It will enable you to claim the practice as your own.
Sure, the practice of mindfulness meditation cannot be owned as such by anyone. It is a universally available trait, if not natural ability, and accordingly the responses of each human nervous system will be more or less the same, with our breathing, blood pressure and heart rate finding a healthy balance, resulting in a better oxygenated and clearer, relaxed body and brain. But we all come to our practice as a unique individual concoction of experiences, nature, conditioning, DNA and mysterious life purpose. This is why it’s a good idea to come up with your own definition. And as your practice changes (which it will, because you change and everything else changes all.of.the.time), so too might your definition change.
In the Mindfulness Works intro course, we start by using a definition from the founding father of modern-day “scientific” mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn, which most of you will remember: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally.” Of course, this is a flawless, relatively easy to understand description.
And yet, my own definition reminds me more strongly of my intentions with this practice, which in turn keeps me motivated to show up at my meditations, again and again, and with gusto. I have made sure it covers all the elements of “pure” mindfulness practice as described by Kabat-Zinn. You know, the three main ingredients of neutrality (being non-judgmental), the here-and-now (in the present moment… not that there is any other moment) and intentionally (the ‘on purpose’ bit). Bonus: in the sentence above, you already have received three new words to potentially include in your own definition or description.
I guess now it’s time to share my definition or description with you. I currently have two. One is for my formal practice, the other one a regular reminder throughout the rest of my day. I mentally call my formal sessions “Sit still, shut up and witness what is and what emerges”. In informal situations, whenever I want to remind myself of the necessity of anchoring myself with all my faculties (mental, emotional, physical) to engage with the reality of life, I whisper in my own ear: “The opposite of not here, not now, not with you”.
Neither of these descriptions may make much sense to you, but they work for me. In case they cause any confusion, I sincerely apologise and urge you to create an antidote by way of your own definition or description, without further ado. For inspiration, you may also want to check out a few more (much more polished :)) definitions from others:
“To practice mindfulness means to orientate ourselves through attention and feeling to what is current in our experience.” Stephen Archer, lead trainer and supervisor of Mindfulness Works and director of Mindfulness Training.
“Mindfulness is the practice of being present and developing awareness of the ways in which we rob ourselves of the natural joy of being alive,” says Rachel Tobin, Mindfulness Works NZ trainer and director of The Art of Mindfulness.
is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are
and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s
going on around us.” From the staff of Mindful.org
“Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment “. Wikipedia
Now I would love to hear from you what yours is!
Sitara Morgenster, June 2019. Written for the Mindfulness Works (NZ|AUS) Monthly Newsletter.
This month my blog takes the shape of a 12-point cheat sheet, addressing some of our pre-conceived ideas about formal mindfulness practice that are floating around. You can download the free PDF via the form below the article.
- Mindfulness practice = sitting silently, watching feelings, body-sensations and thoughts come and go, not hooking into any of them
- If your thinking or any other natural phenomena of the body/mind are too overwhelming, put your attention on your natural breathing rhythm
- You cannot do this wrong, despite what your opinion about the quality or outcomes of your practice want to tell you or despite what anyone else says
- It’s impossible to stop thinking. The mind is designed to think, just as the stomach wants to eat. But you can decide what focus to give your mind and be its master
- To practise between 12-20 minutes a day is sufficient for maximum benefit. Perhaps start with less to build up “sitting stamina”. Extend for your own good reasons
- Mindfulness practice delivers benefits automatically! Practice to take a closer look at the life you live and are, to develop a greater intimacy with life itself
- Mindfulness knowledge is experiential. It increases through continuing practice. Not by courses or reading about it (although of course there’s nothing wrong with that!)
- Nothing needs further addressing or fixing or solving, the practice itself is sufficient. You will know to seek help or share or write or explore when you need to
- Practising can result in feeling uncomfortable, but it’s not a sign something is wrong, and you will still reap the (scientifically proven) benefits
- Mindfulness is a perpetually growing process in which we begin to appreciate our unique inner and outer surroundings in life, whatever they may be
- The changes you may wish to make on the basis of your mindful connection with yourself will come from your insight; not reaction, effort or force or outer authority
- Mindfulness is common-sense mind/body hygiene like brushing your teeth, but it will not “get you anywhere”. There is nowhere to get. You’re already “it”
- Sitara Morgenster
- p.s. Download the free PDF of the 12-point Mindfulness Cheat Sheet by filling out your details below. The link will be emailed to you instantly!
Mindfulness practice is thousands of years old. Some even argue it is a natural skill much like walking. It’s just that society hasn’t valued it so we weren’t taught as kids. This has caused our mindfulness-muscle to go flabby and be forgotten.
Both those premises are currently changing.
You can’t turn around or there’s another article about mindfulness, a course or a retreat, and many schools are introducing forms of mindfulness into their curriculum.
If you wonder why it has suddenly become insanely popular (to the point of risking a place in the top-10 of irritating fads) here are seven reasons for its revival and prevalence:
- Once you master the basics, you never need another course again – just keep practicing on a not too irregular basis;
- It’s a cheap and simple modality that everyone can master and no one can do wrong;
- We finally have the science to prove the benefits of daily meditation practice;
- Over the past decades, it has been freed from religious and airy-fairy connotations by people like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Eric Harrison and lately in New Zealand, Karl Baker, and returned to the realms of effective body/mind human hygiene. Think of it like this: what brushing does for your teeth, mindfulness does for your mind;
- It has been cleverly re-branded from not so catchy (attention training) to pretty juicy (mindfulness/meditation);
- It doesn’t require you to change anything and you don’t need to buy anything (although you may want to spend some money on initial training and guidance to get you going);
- We live increasingly hectic lives in an overwhelming, fast changing world, so we can all do with something that brings us back to our natural state we all, to one degree or another, have a hunch about and a hunger for.
You probably know about the main benefits. Regular mindfulness practice improves sleep, is an antidote against anxiety and depression, lowers your heart-rate and blood pressure and improves the immune system.
But you don’t have to be stressed, desperate or on anti-depressants to reach for this fascinating, mind-altering modality.
Even in a life that feels quite balanced, the advantages of using mindfulness meditations are bountiful: improved focus and clarity, increased creativity and more easy going in relationships with your self and therefore others, to name a few.
And maybe the best thing of all: it is devoid of the subtle pressures of self-improvement, behaviour changes and self-help techniques. Because it is about being aware, not about fixing anything about yourself or a situation.
For sure, things may improve for you and you may find the space to make different choices in your work, relationships and so on. But that is not the primary aim. The primary aim is to observe, notice and allow things to be as they currently are. All the benefits and outcomes will naturally follow.
In the first instance, it is about being relaxed in the present moment. Because the minute we start looking for results, our nervous system tenses up and all benefits fly out the window.
The effects of this “Sitting Still and Shutting up for 12 minutes a day Practice” will surprise you. Give it the benefit of the doubt and find out how to do this. Try you must, because it is an experiential practice, like cycling, swimming, sexing, eating: you can read about it until you’re blue in the face, but you will still not know if it’s fad or fab. You need to do it. Give it at least 6 days a week for 12 minutes a day during a month. Then, if you it doesn’t suit you, you can always abandon it. At least you will have given it a try.
If you’ve tried it already, leave a comment on this blog below and share your experience. It would be great to hear from you!