Mindfulness is an ancient concept, found in a wide range of spiritual and religious traditions, including most martial arts, yoga, Tai chi, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Gradually, over the last 30 years, Western psychology has started to recognise the many benefits of mindfulness training, and it has now become an empirically supported intervention in a wide range of clinical disorders.
Mindfulness can be defined in a variety of different ways, but they all basically come down to this: paying attention with flexibility, openness, and curiosity.
This simple definition tells us three important things:
First, mindfulness is a process of awareness, not thinking. It involves paying attention to your experience in the moment as opposed to being caught up in thoughts.
Second, mindfulness involves a particular attitude: one of openness and curiosity. Even if our experience in the moment is difficult, painful or unpleasant, we can be open to and curious about it instead of running from or fighting with it.
Third, mindfulness involves flexibility of attention: the ability to consciously direct, broaden or focus attention on different aspects of experience.
We can use mindfulness to ‘wake up,’ connect with ourselves and appreciate the fullness of each moment of life. We can use it to improve our self-knowledge – to learn more about how we feel, think and react. We can use it to connect deeply and intimately with the people we care about, including ourselves. And we can use it to consciously influence our own behaviour and increase our range of responses to the world we inhabit. It is the action of living consciously – a profound way to enhance psychological resilience and increase life satisfaction.