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Being Mindful About Mindfulness

In recent years, “mindfulness” has become a buzzword in both the mental health community and the wider culture. A consensus seems to have been reached that mindfulness is something we could all aspire to have more of in our lives - but how many of us really understand what mindfulness is, or how we can cultivate it?

Modern Western mindfulness and meditation traces its lineage to Buddhism, but contemplative practices are a part of nearly every world religion and spiritual ideology. Mindfulness is a multifaceted state of being and an awareness of what is, while meditation puts mindfulness into practice. All forms of meditation are mindful, but mindfulness is not always a practice of meditation. Meditative practices involve mental exercises that increase the capacity to be present, to observe what is happening without judgment, and to cultivate a sense of ease with what we find. Examples of meditative practices can be a moment of depth of breath and presence, a guided visualization, or a yoga class. 

Mindfulness is a state of mind that can be cultivated in everything we do, through active presence and non-judgmental awareness. Where meditation focuses on our internal experiences, mindfulness can be present within our external experiences and throughout our daily activities.For example, mindful eating can benefit our relationship with food and our bodies. Mindful communication creates an environment of compassion and acceptance, and walking mindfully allows us to be present in our experiences with the world. 

Mindfulness illuminates our internal and external worlds and brings clarity to our experiences. In the Buddhist tradition, mindfulness has a quality of alert attention; it’s tuning in, not tuning out. Through mindfulness, we can observe our mental habits and learn what stories we’ve been telling ourselves. When we begin to observe the reality of our thought patterns, we begin to better understand ourselves and where we stand. From there we can chart a map of our healing journey. 

Cultivating mindfulness can lead to discomfort as we face truths about ourselves we might rather avoid - like the universal tendencies to be judgmental, to take things personally, or to react instead of responding. However, learning to love every part of ourselves, accepting the reality of our suffering, and taking responsibility for the part we play in perpetuating unhealthy cycles can awaken us to our own power to change our lives. Like therapy, meditation can be both an insight-based or an experiential practice. If you’re curious about these topics, or if you think you might find mindfulness helpful, ask your therapist how you might incorporate it into your daily life, as a part of your therapeutic journey.

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