Wait…What Actually *IS* Mindfulness, Anyway?
Not so long ago, I applied for a copy-writing job at a blog about meditation. I did not get that job, which is for the best, because I really don’t know very much about meditation. I know all different kinds of people practice meditation and many of them swear by it, I know it’s been proven to be beneficial in myriad ways for children and adults, I know it can be a religious or spiritual practice for some, and a not-particularly-religious practice for others. And I know David Lynch is a really big fan.
I also know mindfulness is a big part of it and a consistently popular hashtag. There is, of course, a lot more to it than captions on social media, so let’s dive in, shall we?
Mindfulness is, according to our good friend and neighbor Wikipedia, a translation of the term “sati,” the first factor of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment in Buddhist practice. Since the 70s, mindfulness has been studied and used in treatment in the West by clinical psychiatrists and psychologists for a wide variety of conditions.
Beginning to include mindfulness in clinical studies in the West is largely credited to Jon Kabat Zinn, who has been a student of various high-profile Buddhist teachers, including Thich Nhat Hanh, among others. Now, as more and more studies continue to prove its tangible effect on health, it’s become pretty standard practice. AND since the practice of mindfulness is so simple to, well, practice (I’m sorry, I had to), we’re seeing mentions of it pop up all over.
You can do it almost anywhere. You can do it almost any time. It’s a simple concept. And the point isn’t particularly ACHIEVING anything — it’s the practice of trying to be completely in the present moment, without judgment.
Good ol’ Merriam-Webster defines, “mindfulness,” as:
- 1: the quality or state of being mindful ← not a super helpful definition, TBH
- 2: the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis ← much more helpful, thx M-W!
Living moment to moment — yeah, that sounds great. How do you get started doing it? I really liked this starter how-to from mindful.org:
The Basics of Mindfulness Practice
Mindfulness helps us put some space between ourselves and our reactions, breaking down our conditioned responses. Here’s how to tune into mindfulness throughout the day:
- Set aside some time. You don’t need a meditation cushion or bench, or any sort of special equipment to access your mindfulness skills — but you do need to set aside some time and space.
- Observe the present moment as it is. The aim of mindfulness is not quieting the mind, or attempting to achieve a state of eternal calm. The goal is simple: we’re aiming to pay attention to the present moment, without judgment. Easier said than done, we know.
- Let your judgments roll by. When we notice judgments arise during our practice, we can make a mental note of them, and let them pass.
- Return to observing the present moment as it is. Our minds often get carried away in thought. That’s why mindfulness is the practice of returning, again and again, to the present moment.
- Be kind to your wandering mind. Don’t judge yourself for whatever thoughts crop up, just practice recognizing when your mind has wandered off, and gently bring it back.
That’s the practice. It’s often been said that it’s very simple, but it’s not necessarily easy. The work is to just keep doing it. Results will accrue.
So what is mindfulness? It’s simple to practice, but also challenging. Where does it fit into my life? I’m figuring it out. It can happen in a set time every day, it can happen by taking a moment to just breathe and be when that feels necessary. The important thing, I think, is to keep showing up to the present with an open mind and heart. Hard to find something wrong with that, right? ✌️
Apps to try:
AND here’s a 30 minute meditation podcast at the Hammer Museum — if you’re in LA, you can also go in person!
- xo, Liz + DTGS