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What is Mindfulness?

One of the most well-recognized Western definitions of mindfulness comes from Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the central founders of the field and creator of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (1979):

"The awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment and non-judgmentally in the service of self understanding and wisdom" 

Kabat-Zinn’s use of the term mindfulness has become the landmark definition but similar  conceptual definitions also include:

  • An open and receptive attention to, and awareness of, what is occurring in the present moment

  • An attention that is receptive to the whole field of awareness and remains in an open state so that it can be directed to currently experienced sensations, thoughts, emotions, and memories

  • Waking up from a life lived on automatic pilot and based in habitual responding

  • The basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we are doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what is going on around us

Philosophy of Mindfulness

  • Allows one to be non-judgmentally aware of thoughts and feelings so that they are felt and accepted

  • Mindfulness is an inherent human capability that belongs to anyone irrespective of race, creed, gender, you name it. It is our birthright.

  • Accepting negative emotions instead of resisting them

  • Bringing a 'beginner's mind' to experiences as though you are seeing something for the first time

  • The ability to be on the spot—aware of what’s going on inside, outside, and all around, connecting with others—is part of being human.

  • No need for change -- we already have the capacity to be present.  But we do need to cultivate these innate qualities

  • Mindfulness is an evidence-based practice validated by scientific research that is has positive benefits for our health as well as relationships

  • What mindfulness is not

    • Not having a blank mind 

    • Not becoming emotionless

    • Not withdrawing from life 

    • Not seeking bliss 

    • Not escaping pain

    • Not converting to a new religion


Mindful Awareness

Developing mindful awareness of the present moment can connect us to experiences, interactions, emotions and thoughts without the interference of judgment, bias, beliefs or distractions.  We can 'Just Be' in the present moment, even if it is too exciting to contain or too painful to tolerate.  Accepting the present moment for what it IS can be considered the crown jewel of mindfulness.

Cultivating Mindfulness

Meditative exercises and/or mindfulness meditation can be the first step to learning Mindfulness.   When we focus our attention on our breath or curiously explore sense activation like sight, hearing or taste we are developing our brain's ability to attend to the present moment.   We do not need to clear our mind of thoughts while we are meditating as it is our ability to frequently come back to our attention or breath and away from distracting thoughts that develops our ability to be mindful.