The Nature of Mindfulness
According to the American Heritage online dictionary, mindfulness means
“attentive; heedful”. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines mindfulness as “bearing in mind or inclined to be aware.” Roget’s II Thesaurus provides the following synonyms, “cautious, attentiveness: care, carefulness, caution, gingerliness, heed, heedfulness, regard.” These definitions provide clues to the centuries old practice of mindfulness, but leave much incomplete.
Mindfulness practices have 2500-year-old roots in meditation and contemplative traditions found around the world. Mindfulness involves the simple principle of bringing your nonjudgmental attention to your full experience in each moment. It may be a simple concept, yet it may involve lifetimes of practice to perfect. Such lofty achievement is the aspiration, but the primary goal is simply the practice of unwavering compassionate presence.
So why should one be “present” for his or her moment-to- moment experience?
• We can reduce our own suffering caused by worrying about the future and reliving or rehashing wounds of the past when we are able to be here, right now.
• The only reality we have is in this very moment.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
Dramatic new research out of major research institutions is providing outcome data and brain imaging to document the benefits of intentionally focused attention and the mechanisms by which that state is beneficial. Mindfulness, or intentionally focused attention, is a skill developed through use and training of the middle prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain behind our forehead. When this area of the brain is regularly activated through mindfulness practice, existing connections are strengthened and new connections are made throughout the brain.
Developing our brain in this way helps bring:
- Greater balance & coping(becoming less reactive physically and emotionally – being better able to calm fears)
- Attuned relationships(feeling more connected with others particularly in intimate relationships)
- Flexibility(developing the capacity to pause and respond rather than to react impulsively or mindlessly. The ability to consider more possibilities)
- Greaterinsight (self-knowing awareness, capacity to reflect on self)
- Greaterempathy (ability to consider the experience/ perspective of another)
- Intuition(greater attunement with self, sensitivity to body-knowing “gut feelings” or “heart feelings”)
- Ethics(enhanced capacity to consider consequences of our actions, consider the greater good, engage in pro-social behaviors).
~Research is also showing wide-ranging applications of such brain development related to:
Mood Disorders – greater emotional balance and reduction of…
- Bipolar disorders
- Greater attention skills
~Chronic medical conditions – decreased frequency and intensity of symptoms for conditions such as:
- Chronic pain
- Back pain,
- high blood pressure,
- heart disease,
~Addressing issues related to trauma
~To reduce symptoms and consequences of stress (work, financial, relationship, role)
~To reduce sleep problems
~Increased immune function and greater resistance to disease
~Obtain greater calmness, peace, contentment, creativity, acceptance, and compassion; all qualities we associate with well-being and wellness
~Addressing addictions (not in place of an inpatient program)
~Spirituality; enhanced spiritual life practice
~Enhanced sexuality or healing of sexual wounds
“I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.”
~ John O’Donohue