What is this mindfulness and why is it so hard to explain?

I’m in the process of writing a number of articles, books and workbooks about mindfulness and mindful living, and each time I seem to come back to a hurdle: what actually is mindful living? what is mindfulness? How do I explain these ideas to someone who’s maybe only heard them in passing, never heard of them, or heard of them a few times but has no idea what they actually are?

Hmm. It’s a tough one! So I thought I would test this out on you dear readers, to see if I can get it right. There’s a bit of a disclaimer here at this point too, in that actually I think everyone sees mindfulness and mindful living differently. The mindfulness a Buddhist practices will be different to an 8 week mindfulness course you can go to on the NHS, which will be different to the versions across the globe that people like bloggers, meditation practitioners, mindful gurus follow etc. Just like there’s no one size fits all for yoga and lots of different types, it pretty similar for mindfulness.

So what is mindful living?

So when I talk about mindful living, I am referring to mindfulness, but I think it’s really, really important that it’s incorporated into daily life, and your every day. It’s no good doing an 8 week mindfulness course, going on an annual retreat and then leading a stressy, complex life full of worry and  activities that exhaust you and that frankly you only do for someone else/because you feel you have to/because others are doing it* (*delete as applicable).

So really all of the tools you’re taught on an 8 week course, or in a workshop, or through reading and teaching yourself about mindfulness are lost if you don’t bring them into your every day life.  So when I say mindful living = mindfulness. Same thing, different label. Also mindful living is more active. It sounds like you’re using it, or you’re going to use it. I might be wrong but that might actually encourage you to keep your mindfulness tools sharpened and used on a regular basis?

OK yeah but what is mindful living?

So mindfulness/mindful living is a set of tools to help you manage your thoughts, be present in life rather than in your head, and to lead a calmer, happier life? How? Sounds great right but how do these tools actually do that? In a nutshell when you practice mindfulness you do a few things; you meditate – taking time out to relax, let your thoughts go, breath deeply, and be in the moment – you start to notice your thoughts, and how destructive your thoughts might be. I’ve put a few links peppered through the article for you to find out more if you’re interested.

So we have all these thousands of thoughts every day, and because we lead busy lives, and we’re actually pretty scared of opening up to these thoughts we shove them back down, we eat around them, we use drugs and alcohol to quieten them, we wait until we have too many and then they explode, or we live a life controlled by thoughts; thoughts we’re not good enough, clever enough, we’re not achieving enough, others are having happier lives. Before we know it, these thoughts are controlling us, and our lives.

By starting to notice the thoughts, through different exercises, and through meditation, we can realise exactly what’s going through our mind on a daily basis, and we can learn to let them go. We can drop all our preconceptions about life, the way we live, what we can and can’t do and begin again.

What about the bit about being present?

Yep, mindfulness is also about being present. Living in the now. We are all focussed in getting through every day, in making money, paying bills, growing debts and thinking about when life used to be better, or fantasising how when you get to a certain salary/move to a new area/get a better job/lose weight things will be better? Anyone do the same?

I spent years thinking if I got a better job or I lost weight, or I earned more money I would have a better life. When I came across mindfulness I realised how much I lived  in my head and in the future, and guess what? The future does not exist. There is no such thing, it’s a word made up by man for the next bit of the ‘now’. There is only now.

So one thing I really get from living mindfully is to live now, and only now.  How do I do that? By bringing my thoughts back when they wander, by anchoring myself in the present by my senses. What do I see, what do I feel? What can I hear? My favourite way of doing this is mindful walking. By opening my eyes up to the outside world, feeling the sun on my face, hearing the birds, feeling the breeze, touching the leaves on the trees. I am truly in the now, experiencing life. I do find it harder to do in the every day – I have a very stressful job in adult social care and I do struggle with being present because I spend my life fire fighting, prioritising and re-prioritising. Yet if things get too much I try and take a step back, take some deep breaths, step away and reconnect with the world

Is that it then?

No there is more. So much more. More than I can ever say in one blog post; mindfulness is about compassion, and gratitude. It’s about coming into situations with no preconceptions, about trying things that push your out of your comfort zone in a positive way, about finding ways to accept something that you would maybe prefer not to have to like an illness, or a job loss etc. If I had to try and sum it up in one sentence I’m not sure I could, but I fall back at this point to the wonderful Google dictionary definition. Here’s their interpretation:

“a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”

I think this is a fairly good definition, but I refer you back to what I said earlier. Everyone’s different. I bet you could do eight different eight week courses and come out with 8 different sets of tools!

So my plan is to put together a toolkit guide for you, with exercises, explanations ,examples and places for you to make notes. So that you can define your own version of mindful living that works for you. If you’re interested pop a comment below, or email me at info@mindfulhub.co.uk and I will be sure you’re first to hear about it when it’s produced.

Let me know what you think about my version of mindful living? Is this the same definition you work to? Have you heard different ones? What does mindfulness mean to you?

4 Replies to “What is this mindfulness and why is it so hard to explain?”

  1. Mindfulness could suggest it is a technique that you pick up and put down maybe once a day , but mindful living is a fuller way of getting the benefits as it is a way of living. And yes I definitely thing you have to find your own way of working with it, especially as we all have different triggers that take us away from mindful living. For me changing old habits of thinking and behaving is a big trigger.

    1. Thanks Marie that’s such a good way of putting it! I think the triggers you mentioned are such a good way of explaining why mindfulness and mindful living are different for us all. Thanks for sharing, best wishes Jo

  2. Mindful Living; further to this excellent blog, for me Mindful Living is both a mental and physical state. When practicing acceptance the mind/thoughts are to be non-judgemental while at the same time the body reacts to frustrations, muscles become tense, tendency to become cold and clammy, etc. For the body to be in a state of acceptance I need to control my breathing, breath into the tense parts of my body, and by combining both the mental and physical state enter into a state of Mindful Living

    1. Thanks Rhys, that’s a great way of putting it. It’s not just about the mind. It’s also about the body. I know my body gets very tense when I’m stressed and mindfulness does help it relax. Thanks for commenting, best wishes jo

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