What Exactly is Mindfulness, Anyway?
You may have heard the term “mindfulness” being thrown around. It has recently become popular, and techniques for practicing it can be found in numerous books and apps. But what exactly is mindfulness, anyway?
According to mindful.org, “mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” That definition may still be a little fuzzy, so the rest of this blog will explore the concept of mindfulness. A second blog in this mindfulness series will detail its benefits, while a third offers ideas for including mindfulness in your own life and strategies for practicing mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a concept that has roots in Buddhism. It was traditionally practiced by monks who, meditating and sitting completely still, sought enlightenment. Enlightenment was thought to be neared when the individual was detached from the material and living an ascetic lifestyle- which is bound to happen if the mindful meditation lasts days on end. As the 1800s brought a century of new trade between Asia and Europe, the concept of meditation piqued the interest of several individual Westerners. However, the general population would not be introduced to mindfulness for nearly two hundred years.
Mindfulness did not gain traction until the last century. Jon Kabat-Zinn, an American professor, popularized it in the West only in recent years. In 1979, he earned attention after developing a program intended to reduce stress through mindfulness, known as the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course. Kabat-Zinn’s notion of mindfulness is secular and scientific, a far cry from an act of religious devotion of Buddhist monks. The idea, though, is largely the same: pressing pause on the busyness of daily life to be reflective and aware of your thoughts.
Though difficult to pin down, the mindfulness that we recognize today can be described as taking the time to be aware of your body and your mind. It often entails being still and present, and simply observing what you are feeling or thinking. Contrary to popular belief and the image of traditional meditation, where the goal is to have a completely blank mind, with mindfulness, thoughts are not discouraged but rather they come and go naturally. It is a practice of both the mind and the body, being aware of thoughts and feelings as well as sensations experienced by each of the five senses.
Importantly, mindfulness is not some foreign concept. You don’t need any fancy equipment or a remote, exotic location to be mindful. The practice instead involves making space inside your own ordinary life. Yes, it can be practiced and perfected, but everybody has the ability to be mindful- in fact, you’ve probably experienced mindfulness without having a name for it.
Though many of us have probably had a mindful moment or two in the past without realizing, I want to draw attention to something new to introduce to these moments of calm and reflection. Women, and especially black women, may be hesitant to voice our desires, lest they get labelled as “too emotional,” “too angry,” “too needy.” This hesitancy to voice personal needs can translate into a hesitancy to even feel these needs, suppressing any emotion or instance of discomfort just to get by. Mindfulness, and specifically intentionality during mindfulness, is a great way to combat this suppression of feeling by getting to know yourself better and fostering the confidence needed to be vocal about how you’re feeling.
So, what is intentionality? Philosophers would call it “the power of minds and mental states to be about, to represent, or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs,” but the rest of this post will explore how you can turn that confusing jumble of words into something meaningful in your own life. Intentional people are active and present in their life. They don’t do things just because “that’s the way it’s always been done.” They make decisions not passively, but after consideration and with some consult from their true desires. Enter mindfulness. As you practice mindfulness, try asking yourself- how are you feeling? What’s bothering you? What is going well? The stress and clutter of modern life often make it difficult to listen to yourself, but with mindfulness, you can make time to tap into your inner wishes.
To return to the question that started this post: what exactly is mindfulness? It’s difficult to give an exact definition, since it can mean so many different things or take on so many different forms for different people (consider a monk on a mountaintop or a student reflecting after a busy day, for example- they’re both being mindful, though in different ways). But mindfulness is an opportunity to be intentional. It’s an opportunity to be thoughtful, and it’s an opportunity to be free of judgement.
This blog post is the first in a series on mindfulness. Check back on CC Speaks to read about the many benefits of mindfulness.
https://www.mindful.org/what-is-mindfulness/ (cover image)