I’m curious: How do you describe your own mindfulness practice (if you have experience as a mindfulness practitioner, be it regular or irregular, fledgling or badass)?
During the introductory courses I teach for Mindfulness Works NZ, I like to encourage participants to come up with their own definition of mindfulness practice during the course. This is not merely a mental exercise or wordplay, but a really good trick to help deepen your understanding of what you’re actually doing when you are meditating. Writing it down makes it even more powerful. Repeating it to yourself a few times a day like a mantra: boom!
First of all, a definition or description is essential to help to remind yourself what mindfulness is not. It is, for instance, not a relaxation method (although it leads to relaxation), it is not a method to become enlightened (though it may serve as preparation for renunciation), it is not a way to improve yourself (though you may effortlessly change in ways that please you) nor to change your circumstances (though it will help you have a clear understanding of your current situation and possibly your next moves). And on and on.
Secondly, having your own definition helps strengthen your connection to the (idea of) practice and thereby assist you in “keeping it up”. It will also help to nurture (or initiate) an amicable, if not love relationship with your practising of mindfulness. It will enable you to claim the practice as your own.
Sure, the practice of mindfulness meditation cannot be owned as such by anyone. It is a universally available trait, if not natural ability, and accordingly, the responses of each human nervous system will be more or less the same, with our breathing, blood pressure and heart rate finding a healthy balance, resulting in a better oxygenated and clearer, relaxed body and brain.
But we all come to our practice as a unique individual concoction of experiences, nature, conditioning, DNA and mysterious life purpose. This is why it’s a good idea to come up with your own definition. And as your practice changes (which it will, because you change and everything else changes all.of.the.time), so too might your definition change.
In the Mindfulness Works intro course, we start by using a definition from the founding father of modern-day “scientific” mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn, which most of you will remember: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally.” Of course, this is a flawless, relatively easy to understand description.
And yet, my own definition reminds me more strongly of my intentions with this practice, which in turn keeps me motivated to show up at my meditations, again and again, and with gusto. I have made sure it covers all the elements of “pure” mindfulness practice as described by Kabat-Zinn. You know, the three main ingredients of neutrality (being non-judgmental), the here-and-now (in the present moment… not that there is any other moment) and intentionally (the ‘on purpose’ bit). Bonus: in the sentence above, you already have received three new words to potentially include in your own definition or description.
I guess now it’s time to share my definition or description with you. I currently have two. One is for my formal practice, the other one a regular reminder throughout the rest of my day. I mentally call my formal sessions “Sit still, shut up and witness what is and what emerges”. In informal situations, whenever I want to remind myself of the necessity of anchoring myself with all my faculties (mental, emotional, physical) to engage with the reality of life, I whisper in my own ear: “The opposite of not here, not now, not with you”.
Neither of these descriptions may make much sense to you, but they work for me. In case they cause any confusion, I sincerely apologise and urge you to create an antidote by way of your own definition or description, without further ado. For inspiration, you may also want to check out a few more (much more polished :)) definitions from others:
“To practise mindfulness means to orientate ourselves through attention and feeling to what is current in our experience.” Stephen Archer, lead trainer and supervisor of Mindfulness Works and director of Mindfulness Training.
“Mindfulness is the practice of being present and developing awareness of the ways in which we rob ourselves of the natural joy of being alive,” says Rachel Tobin, Mindfulness Works NZ trainer and director of The Art of Mindfulness.
“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.” From the staff of Mindful.org
“Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment “. Wikipedia
Now I would love to hear from you what yours is!
© Sitara Morgenster
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Written for the Mindfulness Works (NZ|AUS) Monthly Newsletter.