Mindfulness is a way of being. It’s a basic human capability, teachable across cultures, available to anyone, at any time, and with training, under any circumstances. All it takes is learning how to press the “pause” button of the mind, interrupting our automatic habitual reactions, and getting back in touch with something so simple as being able to listen – to ourselves and others.
But what else does the word represent?
Mindfulness is an English translation of the ancient Pali word sati, a language used in northern India over 2000 years ago. Together with the word “awareness” it describes “being present” or “paying attention” and is used often in meditation circles and in cognitive psychology. But still, all these words imply much more.
Mindfulness is the intention and act of bringing our attention to the present moment as it unfolds, over and over again, while being fully and uncategorically receptive to whatever is happening to us. When we speak about mindfulness we are not referring to a concept, to something we can get or to a state of attainment. Instead, mindfulness is an attitude to cultivate “on our own,” a way of maintaining full attention on our experience as it is happening “moment to moment” using our bodies, our hearts and our minds, and our relationships with others.
The term Mindfulness is rapidly spreading into language that describes well-being, personal and professional development and different areas of psychology due in part to Jon Kabat-Zinn and the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) work he developed at the University of Massachusetts. In this case, mindfulness still refers to a particular form of awareness, characterized by a moment-to-moment way of being, that is sustained by non-judgmental, non-selective attention toward ourselves and others; but Mindfulness – with a capital M – is not only a clinical protocol. It is as a way of presenting a panorama of essential mindfulness practices in a user-friendly format for a broad base of users.
I have personally found that the MBSR protocol is a compact way to teach all of the basics of mindfulness in a few weeks, for people who are confronting important issues in their lives like stress, work, family or health issues, or for just about anyone interested in utilizing meditation practices as tools for greater understanding and resolution. Through MBSR one learns useful ways to begin to identify and map out the vast terrain of inner life, to recognize our basic intentions and to pay moment-to-moment attention to what’s happening to us without being judgmental or overly analytical. All in all, MBSR helps people to incorporate formal and informal meditation and yoga exercises into daily life on the way to establishing a longer lasting personal practice.