We so often live our life on Auto-Pilot.
As a concept, mindfulness, is a form of meditation.
It was develop ed Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), to treat depression, and many others have used the concepts in various forms to treat ailments ranging from chronic pain to borderline personality disorder.
With its emphasis on paying attention in the moment, mindfulness advocates a move away from our usual automatic mode of living. Hence, Mindfulness – Bring in Daily Life. We so often live life on “auto-pilot”, doing things without thinking about them, without experiencing them. Do you ever notice when you drive a familiar route that you have arrived at your destination without even noticing you were driving? This is auto-pilot. Mindfulness asks you to come out of auto-pilot and consciously pay more attention to what is going on in the here and now, taking note of what is going on moment by moment.
Then we may ask why mindfulness is so effective in treating such a range of conditions. The idea is that, by paying attention to what is going on now, we cannot dwell on past experiences or hurts, or worry about what is going to happen in the future. With a focus on non-judgemental awareness, mindfulness asks us to acknowledge our current thoughts, feelings, sensations, pain or worries, but not to get caught up with them. This focus on curious detachment allows us to disengage from the things that are causing us concern. This is not to say that we ignore or dismiss these concerns, but we don’t engage with them in the usual way.
How is this done? The easiest mindfulness technique involves focussing on the breath. Simply allow yourself to concentrate on your breathing. Breathing slowly and noticing the breath as it goes in and out, feeling the rise and fall of the abdomen. This, in its most basic form, is all it takes to be practicing mindfulness. Every time we notice our mind losing focus, and drifting towards our normal thoughts, the aim is to acknowledge this — but not judge — and gently bring our attention back to the breath.
Another exercise is to eat a raisin ‘mindfully’. This involves taking to time to notice its particular smell, to feel its texture, to let it rest on the tongue, think about its taste, allow the time to roll it your mouth and feel how its texture is different on your tongue, slowly bite into it… And keep going, one tiny action at a time, experiencing each sensation until you’re done. Another is a body scan meditation, where you sit or lie still and consciously scan your whole body focussing on each part of the body for a few seconds in turn from your toes to the tip of you head.
In research studies, mindfulness has delivered a 20% reduction in the symptoms of anxiety and depression. In asking people to concentrate on the here and now, and not judging or engaging with our normal ‘stream of consciousness’ thinking, mindfulness can help people feel calmer and behave more compassionately towards themselves.
Any activity can be carried out mindfully. It is possible to do mindful walking, where you focus on and notice what is going on around you, and pay attention to the body’s movements as you walk. We can carry out simple tasks mindfully, such as mindful washing the dishes, or even mindful ironing! All it involves is paying attention to our movements, to that act of filling the washing up bowl or the iron moving over the sheets, to the sounds, the smells, the textures, heat or cold, or anything else we can be aware of in that activity alone. When your mind wanders onto anything else, don’t be critical, but gently bring it back to the here and now.
Mindfulness is certainly reaching a far wider audience than previously, and it looks set to stay around for some time. Mindfulness is a simple concept, but does require a little practice to appreciate its benefits. A ten minute breathing meditation a day over a few weeks is all it takes before a noticeable difference is experienced.
Practicing mindfulness improves mental and physical health for most people. Practiced regularly, it can reduce general stress levels and improve our interactions with others, even in difficult situations. Everyone can benefit from practicing mindfulness.
You’re right; that description of mindfulness would be quite recognizable to anyone who practices secular mindfulness (that is, mindfulness that is not necessarily practiced in a religious or spiritual context).
Foundations are: our bodies, our feelings, our minds themselves, and phenomena / the world around us. By training in mindfulness of these four foundations, we see, more and more, how all of these things really are, outside from our conceptual ideas of them. Training in the four foundations of mindfulness is training in seeing reality with more clarity and equanimity.
There’s much that can be said about mindfulness practice, but the basic idea is quite simple. (One teacher has, playfully, boiled the practice down to “Sit Down, Shut Up, and Pay Attention.”) You can see for yourself how simple it is by trying it.
Each of these points provides multiple unique opportunities for developing a deep and rich daily mindfulness practice which leads you towards greater peace, freedom, and happiness.
1. Mindfulness of body, anatomy, and elements
More than just mindfulness of physical positions and movements, mindfulness of the body in the body is also mindfulness of our anatomy and the elements we’re made up of.
Meditation: A simple meditation you can do for this is to go through each area of your body with mindfulness including your hair, skin, wrinkles even, heart, lungs, etc. and imagine yourself smiling at each area as you go.
The last area for practice is mindfulness of the “4 elements” in Indian spirituality: earth, fire, water, and air.
- Earth. This refers to mindfulness of the physical form of our body, which we largely already covered. Here, you could be mindful more so of the existence of your physical form standing or sitting rather than of a particular movement, though.
- Fire. This has to do with becoming mindful of heat in the body (or lack of). Being mindful of the general temperature of the body is a very simple practice which you can easily do anywhere.
- Water. We’ve all heard the statistic: our bodies are made up of more than 57% water. That’s essentially what this element is about: mindfulness of body fluid.
- Air. For each element, it’s important to be aware of how they play a part in making up the complete system that is our bodies, and that’s no different here. Air refers to the respiratory system and how air plays a direct part in our biology.
That is, our body isn’t one single thing but made up of different elements which then give the appearance of one singular thing.
2. Mindfulness of feelings
These painful, pleasurable, and neutral feelings are felt through the six sense organs of the eyes, ears, tongue, body, nose, and mind (in Buddhism the mind is considered the 6th sense).
- Pleasurable feelings lead to attachments such as greed and lust.
- Painful feelings lead to aversions such as hatred and fear.
- And neutral feelings lead to delusion because they often seem unimportant to us and are therefore ignored.
For a very concrete example, think of what it’s like to fall in love.
What begins as pure joy without attachment quickly becomes something we feel we need, and when that person either leaves us or does something that doesn’t align with the idea we have in our minds of who the person is we experience suffering.
But how do we actually deal with a situation like this? With mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the watchful eye which allows us to identify when we attach ourselves to pleasurable feelings, grow aversion to painful feelings, and which allows us to stop ignoring neutral feelings and truly begin observing everything with clarity to see reveal its true nature.
With mindfulness, it’s possible to live in a way that you experience great peace and joy without attaching to or averting things. In fact, the greatest peace is experienced when we can be with a pleasurable feeling without attaching and openly accept painful feelings without growing aversion to them.
3. Mindfulness of consciousness
Mindfulness of consciousness is traditionally called “Mindfulness of the mind in the mind”.
Mental Formations being partly what we refer to as emotions and states of mind such as joy, fear, anger, frustration, excitement, and the like but it includes much more than just that.
A great place to start practicing mindfulness of consciousness is in noticing the coming and going of various emotions and states of mind such as joy, fear, anger, and even mindfulness itself.
4. Mindfulness of mental objects
This is traditionally called “Mindfulness of objects of mind in objects of mind”. That might sound confusing, but objects of mind are really about our thoughts, ideas, and conceptions.
Here, it’s important to understand what role perception plays in our life.
Think of your perception as a T.V. screen. There’s something real and true being transmitted onto the screen, but it’s not the image on the T.V. The image on the T.V. is an object of mind. It’s simply an idea in our mind, or a thought, as opposed to the real thing.
Imagine a flower. When we perceive something like a flower it’s the image of that flower in our mind which is the object of mind.
That’s the idea here. That is, to move beyond our perception to a place where we can see the true flower- beyond our distorting perception as well as identifying the actual thoughts, ideas, and concepts which distort our perception in the first place.
In this example, it’s the resulting effect of our attachment to this idea of the person.
Sensual desire (I feel this is better understood in English as lust)
- Ill will
- Dullness or drowsiness
- Restlessness and worry
Factors of Awakening are:
- Investigation (of mental objects)
The first factor, mindfulness, is supposed to begin a sort of chain effect where each factor leads to the cultivation of the next factor.
These are the 4 major areas of mindfulness practice originally established by the Buddha more than 2,500 years ago.
Take these 4 opportunities to be mindful in your everyday life and use them as a way to investigate yourself and discover important insights that can help you relieve suffering and realize true peace and happiness.
Practice this short breathing exercise known as mindfulness meditation.
Sit or lie in a comfortable posture. If sitting, let your shoulders drop, but keep your spine erect.
If you feel comfortable, close your eyes. Bring your attention to your body, noticing the sensations of your body as it makes contact with the chair or whatever you are lying on. Spend a few minutes noticing the sensations in your body.
Bring your attention to your abdomen, noticing as it rises and expands on the in-breath, and recedes on the out-breath.
Keep your focus on the breath, being with each in-breath for its full duration, and with each out-breath for its full duration, as if you were riding on the waves of your own breathing.
Count each breath, counting one on the in breath, and two on the out breath, until you reach a count of ten, then start back at one again.
Every time you notice your mind has wandered off the breath, notice what it was that took you away, and gently escort your attention back to your breathing.
No matter where your mind wanders to, no matter how many times your mind wanders, it could be a thousand times, simply bring it back to your focus on the breath. Being aware that your mind has wandered and gently bringing it back is as valuable as it is to remain aware of the breath.
Continue this through, counting each breath in and each breath other, reaching ten and starting again, for ten minutes. Take a moment to remain motionless, then gently return to your day.