Following on from the last blog about what is mindfulness, it feels natural to me to look deeper into definitions of mindfulness and mindful living.
So for this post I am going to turn to the masters, the experts, the people who say it better than me. They will define mindfulness for us through video and word. I want this post to be a curated collection really of those different views of what mindfulness is. A reader commented on my last post that mindfulness is different for all of us, and this collection of definitions definitely shows us it is. Hopefully if you’re new to mindfulness you’ll find one that resonates for you, drop me a line in the comments about anything that speaks to you.
So definition one comes from a well respected author who kind of defined and created modern British mindfulness; Professor Mark Williams.
He wrote a great book called Finding Peace in a Frantic World which comes with a CD of meditations that match the book . It’s well worth a read and there’s a link to buy it on the mindful tools page.
Here’s his definition of mindfulness:
“Mindfulness is a very simple form of meditation that was little known in the West until recently. A typical meditation consists of focusing your full attention on your breath as it flows in and out of your body. Focusing on each breath in this way allows you to observe your thoughts as they arise in your mind and, little by little, to let go of struggling with them. You come to realise that thoughts come and go of their own accord; that you are not your thoughts. You can watch as they appear in your mind, seemingly from thin air, and watch again as they disappear, like a soap bubble bursting. You come to the profound understanding that thoughts and feelings (including negative ones) are transient. They come and they go, and ultimately, you have a choice about whether to act on them or not.”
So for Mark Williams and Danny Penman, mindfulness is about meditating , and focussing your full attention on your body as thoughts come and go.
If we look at a more health led definition of mindfulness, NHS Choices, the online arm of our NHS health service in the UK, the website references mindfulness as being more about the present moment:
“Paying more attention to the present moment – to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you – can improve your mental wellbeing.
Some people call this awareness “mindfulness”. Mindfulness can help us enjoy life more and understand ourselves better. You can take steps to develop it in your own life.”
So now we’re referencing mindfulness with it’s link to mental wellbeing. In the UK mindfulness is now being rolled out to patients presenting with anxiety and depression and GPs in some areas can refer patients to mindfulness courses.
This wouldn’t be a proper look at definitions without the father of modern mindfulness – Jon Kabat-Zinn – speaking about his definition. Jon talks about mindfulness here:
Jon’s definition is about paying awareness to ourselves intentionally in the moment, but also brings in something new to our definitions: non judgement. This is perhaps the hardest thing of all. To pay attention to our thoughts intentionally, but without judgement. Who here is not their own worst critic? You may know thinking negatively about yourself is not good for you, but by starting that whole dialogue about a thought, you’re judging it. That gives it oxygen to grow. Hence why Jon talks about viewing your thoughts, but without judgement, to let them go as soon as they appear. Great stuff Jon, that’s a challenge if ever I saw one!
It’s hard to find a straightforward explanation of mindfulness in Buddhism. Mindfulness has it’s roots in Buddhism ,and in early Hindu meditation. Mindfulness is Buddhism can be quite complex as there are lots of teachings on it, and it’s very much linked to compassion and the ending of suffering. Here’s one though, from a Buddhist Centre around using breath in mindfulness:
“As its name implies, the ‘Mindfulness of Breathing’ uses the breath as an object of concentration. By focusing on the breath you become aware of the mind’s tendency to jump from one thing to another. The simple discipline of concentration brings us back to the present moment and all the richness of experience that it contains. It is a way to develop mindfulness, the faculty of alert and sensitive awareness. “
And finally, a lovely little animation on mindfulness and where it comes from, and why we need it, and how to meditation to be more mindful.
So from all these definitions, again we can see everyone has a slightly different interpretation; mindfulness is about the breath, it’s about awareness, about being non judgemental in that awareness, mindfulness is good for mental wellbeing, for being able to dwell in the present, not living anxiously in the future, or feeling depressed and regretful about the past.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this whistlestop tour of some of the ways mindfulness can be defined. I have really enjoyed trying to understand more why we all see mindfulness slightly differently. No matter what though, pretty all of the definitions agree it’s about being present and being aware of thoughts. How often do we actually do that in our busy life? If you’ve checked the above video out you’ll see taking the time to be mindful can actually boost your immunity, help you deal with anxiety and depression and even prolong your life, so it’s something worth exploring.