If mindfulness means paying attention to something on purpose, it’s an ability we naturally all have.
Like me, you have probably carried a full cup of tea across a crowded room at one time or another. We were certainly paying attention in that moment.
We are all mindful to a greater or lesser extent, at different times, depending on our mood, the situation, what is tempting us into distraction…
And it’s distraction that can cause us trouble and unhappiness. According to Harvard research, when we are distracted we feel unhappy and we are distracted about half of the time. That’s unhappy half of the time! Simply because of mind wandering.
Now this is also natural. Our minds wander; we have imagination! Which is wonderful when we need to plan our next holiday. But not so wonderful when our mind is wandering needlessly into rumination and worry. And scientists tell us that when our minds wander, they go to mostly unhappy places.
So how can mindfulness help?
Well, the good news is, our capacity to be mindful is not fixed.
Theravada Buddhism is one of the most ancient traditions of mindfulness training. In Pali, mindfulness meditation is called ‘satipatthana vipassana’. ‘Sati’ means awareness, keeping in mind, attention or memory. ‘Patthana’ means keeping present and foundation or source.
So satipatthana means coming home, coming back to our source or remembering to pay attention to what is happening right now. We could also call this presence.
‘Vipassana’ translates as insight, where ‘vi’ denotes clear and ‘passana’ means seeing. Clear seeing, vipassana, results from practicing satipatthana.
When we are calm, we see clearly. We see things as they really are.
Just take a moment to check that with your own experience. Do you find that to be true? Are you more likely to see clearly when you are calm?
Think about carrying that cup of tea across that crowded room. Wasn’t there a natural sense of mindfulness or concentration coupled with an awareness of the environment?
Now imagine carrying that tea while distracted. Imagine your mind full of worries. Imagine the people in the room cursing you, or trying to seduce you. Wouldn’t it be harder to concentrate? Wouldn’t it be harder to keep the tea from spilling? Wouldn’t you feel more distressed, more under pressure?
The mind is just like this.
When mind is lost in distractions or preoccupied with negative or tempting thoughts, we don’t feel so well. We don’t perform so well.
Applying mindfulness can help us to let go of distractions and return our attention to a happier, calmer, present awareness.
Through training, we can develop our natural ability to be mindful to its fullest potential. We can develop our potential to see calmly and see clearly, and this can bring us a greater sense of well-being and confidence.
Want to practise mindfulness right now?