What is mindfulness?

Definitions, good intentions, stress reduction

Mindfulness Defined

Jon Kabat-Zinn, a Buddhist meditator who developed Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) therapy, is the father of the Modern Mindfulness Movement. He defines mindfulness as:

“The awareness that comes from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally”

Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness

This operational description of mindfulness has become the working definition of the modern mindfulness movement and it looks set to stay. It isn’t the only definition of mindfulness, the Tibetan system of Buddhism has a very clear, precise view of mindfulness as simply ‘not forgetting the object of meditation’ and the Theravada tradition of Buddhism has entire texts devoting to defining and cultivating mindfulness.

Mainstream Mindfulness

Kabat-Zinn has spent most of his professional life trying to get mindfulness into the mainstream and it seems to be working.

Source: Google books

Proof of mainstream acceptance, or at least proof that mindfulness is becoming more palatable to the modern secular world, is now coming in thick and fast, from the BBC Breakfast News to whole shelves of ‘Mindfulness Colouring-In’ books in the local WHSmiths:

While the simplicity of Kabat-Zinn’s defimition is an important part of the growth in mindfulness practice, his Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction therapy has been shown to be effective again and again — giving us clear, objective, scientific proof of the power of meditation in reducing stress and boosting emotional well being.

Evidence for Mindfulness

While the ideas of mindfulness and meditation are well over 2,500 years old, first appearing in ancient India and the teachings of Hindu and Buddhist teachers, the practice and benefits of mindfulness are now accepted by conventional science — not only is medicine, neuroscience and mental health taking mindfulness training onboard but so are sports trainers, the military, businesses and schools.

As a former buddhist monk, meditation teacher and primary school teacher at The Dharma School I’ve seen first-hand how meditation and mindfulness can enhance children’s emotional development and learning.

“Scientific research shows that mindfulness practice may be of particular benefit to children during their primary school years when the brain’s limbic system (that controls emotion and behaviour) is still developing. Core life skills, emotional literacy and personality traits formed during this crucial period help determine how we will function as adults.”
~ The Dharma School

As a practitioner for over 20 years I know how meditation has helped me. And I’ve been part of large communities of practitioners who live a contemplative life and can attest to the benefits. I’ve been watching interest in meditation and mindfulness grow over the last two decades and I have mixed feelings. I’m rather cynical of the colouring-in books, a bit of scribbling alone has not yet been shown to be life-altering and there are now so many scientific papers and studies showing the benefits of mindfulness it has been hard to keep up with all the claims.

What we need is a simple infographic:

Source: Knowledge is Beautiful — designed by an old Buddhist friend of mine, David McCandles

Why now?

A question remains. If mindfulness really is as good as it sounds.

If it can really…

  1. alter our brains
  2. increase our concentration
  3. give us greater empathy and compassion
  4. increase self-control and will power
  5. reduce anxiety
  6. lessen stress
  7. ease depression
Why isn’t everyone doing it already?

If mindfulness has been around for 2,500 years, and it really works, why is it only now, in the 21st century, that people are finally thinking it might be a beneficial addition to our lives?