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Mindfulness put simply, easily explained, what it is exactly?

Mindfulness has been around for longer than we even imagine. It didn’t originate from one source, although Buddhism, which adopts a Mindful approach, is the most commonly related source.

Just to note, Buddhism is NOT a religion, it is a practice where there is no worshiping or following. Only inner reflection, self-knowledge and self-awareness.

Also, Mindfulness in itself can often be misleading people to think it is a meditation or a practice but it is not. It is purely a way of being.

Buddha defined it as “being aware of the incessant change in your body, of arising and vanishing which is, ultimately, the reality of your own life”. As opposed to focusing the awareness in the external world or in our mind and thoughts which, more often than not, are negative and disempowering.

 

We live our lives focussing on the external world. We look from the outside in instead of the opposite. We’re constantly being fed with information coming from outside that, if we take in without awareness, will take away the most important part of ourselves, our inner world which is where the magic happens.

As Jon Kabat-Zinn, an American professor of Medicine who created the “Stress Reduction Clinic” and the “Center for Mindfulness in Medicine”, said: “Mindfulness is a gateway into the full dimensionality of being human”, you can see here a short interview with Oprah Winfrey here below or in this link.

He had the wonderful idea to apply Mindfulness to the traditional medicine approach as early as 1979 and start teaching his patients to transform the experience of pain by changing their relationship to it.

 

That was over 30 years ago and, at this point in time, there is tons of research and studies showing that Mindfulness reduces stress, anxiety and nervous disorders.

An important first step before practising Mindfulness is to understand the Ego.

That word we all have heard many times and identify with someone who is possibly entitled or applies some sort of control over others. That is not exactly what it means.

WHAT IS THE EGO?

Put simply, the Ego is the Mind and therefore our thinking.

Our mind has a very basic function which is to keep us safe and it acts defensively, that’s why we feel fear when we are under threat, so we can actually run away from danger.

Also our mind can be very useful to plan and understand how certain things work logically and rationally. However, most of the time this thinking is in override and thoughts get repetitive and taken to extremes or, even worse, take us to the past, causing depression or the future causing anxiety.

As we grow and face this fabricated reality with all the adversities, this overthinking grows as well to the point where our own thoughts are literally dominating our life and like a force it guides and motivates everything we do becoming a habit.

Mindfulness encourages us to observe ourselves in the present moment instead of paying attention to those thinking habits and let the Ego overtake our lives.

The Ego

The Ego can also be explained as the sense of self and the need to always be right as opposed to humility and acceptance of different points of view.

Ego likes drama and can easily transform a little thing, idea or belief into a massive story or argument fed and indulged by our own thoughts.

Mindfulness aims to fix this and brings about the idea that we cannot always be right or be in control or even be liked by others. Helping us to become the observer of these thoughts, of the mind and so observers of the Ego. By doing this, we are able to remain calm when dealing with challenging situations.

Mindfulness teaches us to observe reality as it is, in constant change, by the minute and it helps us to overcome the fear of change that exists within us and the belief that change equals distress.

The Ego likes what’s familiar, also known as the comfort zone and it is very reluctant to go into the unknown which, ironically, is the essence of life.

We live in a very stressful world where it seems essential to develop the sense of self, the Ego, in order to protect ourselves, however, by taking it to extremes we forget about feeling and all we end up doing is thinking.

Mindfulness is about focusing on the heart, on feelings like compassion for ourselves and others as opposed to focussing on the mind and the thinking.

The Ego brings isolation and selfishness making us build a world of thoughts driven by fear whereas the mindful approach cultivates kindness and love that with practice brings peace of mind and inclusiveness so we start feeling part of the collective, part of a whole.

This approach though must begin in ourselves, individually, by cultivating our self-love and acceptance. We must be compassionate with ourselves first in order to be towards others and this is the first challenge to face as we tend to be our own biggest critics. 

WHAT IS AWARENESS?

Another beautiful concept linked to Mindfulness is awareness, understood as the observation of whatever is happening with no attachment, no judgement, no thinking…just observing.

Whether this is our internal thoughts or external events, it works the same way.

Let’s take a practical example:

You are peacefully going to bed one night and, once you are warm in your cozy bed, suddenly a thought jumps into your mind: “Next week you have an important meeting with your boss to discuss some tricky situation and it makes you nervous so you start worrying…”

“What is he going to say? I might not get the bonus this year…Am I going to get fired? …”

And if you don’t stop the building up of this worry, you not only won’t be able to sleep but you may end up totally wide awake going downstairs and eating that ice-cream you hide in the vegetable bag.

How do we apply Mindfulness in this situation?

That moment the thought comes to your mind, instead of doing what you would normally do and build it up to potential outcomes that haven’t even happened and might never do… Just bring your attention to your body and observe the reaction, maybe you feel tension, or heat… If you don’t know how to describe it, just tell yourself that you are observing your mind at this moment but don’t let the mind jump into another scenario, basically you are stopping the thinking by doing this.

You can as well bring your attention to the rest of the body, scan it and make sure you are relaxed and cozy in your bed, your arms are soft…maybe rest them in your chest, next to your heart and then come back to your head…the initial thought should have disappeared by now or, at least, minimised… now bring your awareness into the moment and take notice of how that negative thought made you feel at first and how much better you feel now that it hasn’t built up.

It seems like hard work but, with practice, you will do this automatically.

And you would act similarly when an external event happens in your life: a situation with another person, an event, an interaction, etc.

NON-JUDGEMENT

This last concept linked to Mindfulness is probably the most difficult to overcome since most of us have it installed as a habit. We judge ourselves relentlessly all the time and therefore every single living and non living thing around us!

Judgement is the opposite of love.

The need to judge usually comes from some sort of fear, it can be the fear of rejection, the fear of failure, or, one of the most common would be the fear of not being good enough or having low self-esteem and self-worth. By judging others we get this fake sensation of feeling better with ourselves because, let’s admit it, we live in a judgemental world where we are also constantly being judged.

Like any other habit learnt, it can be unlearnt and, not saying is easy but, certainly, possible.

Focusing on ourselves instead of others is the first step to success and mindfulness helps you to do that. It encourages us to let go of the internal negative dialogue or negative thinking pattern to pay attention to the emotion it brings up: How does this make me feel? How am I feeling?

You know you are living a Mindful life when you are aligned with your true self, when you observe your thoughts and are able, without judgement, to bring attention to the emotion they cause as many times as necessary until you get in the habit.

And you know that you are aligned with your true self when you don’t pretend to be someone else, when you don’t put a happy face when you are not feeling alright, when you don’t say ‘Yes’ when you want to say ‘No’ and when you don’t live your life trying to please people but pleasing and loving yourself first.