“We do not have to be ashamed of what we are. As sentient beings we have wonderful backgrounds. These backgrounds may not be particularly enlightened or peaceful or intelligent. Nevertheless, we have soil good enough to cultivate; we can plant anything in it”
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Many talk about it. But what is Mindfulness? In this very short article you will find an introduction to the meaning and the practice of Mindfulness, an amazing mind training which is so beneficial for our soul and our general wellbeing.
1 – What is Mindfulness?
It is an ancient practice that the Western world has derived from Eastern philosophies. Differently from meditation, mindfulness does not include a religious component. With the term Mindfulness we define a state of complete attention to the present moment. We root ourselves to the here and now through the observation of the breath, that is observing the action of expansion and contraction that our body does as a tangible sign of its aliveness and that incessantly takes place and consumes itself in this exact instant.
Easy to say, difficult to do! In fact, when we stop being engaged in “doing”, our minds tend to run from future to present to past, from present to past to future, lingering on issues, for example, that we left unsolved in our office or the meal that still needs to be cooked when we come back home. Therefore, being mindful means training our capacity of
- fully awake
2 – How to practice it
Sit in a relaxed but still dignified position, and, if possible for you, with a straight back and a soft belly. Ideally, you should use a meditation cushion crossing your legs. If this position is too difficult or hurts you in any way, you can always use a chair or help yourself with extra pillows. You can envision yourself like being a willow tree with a loose upper body supported by a solid base.
Focus your attention inward. You can close your eyes or keep them open, if this makes you feel more relaxed. Start paying attention to your own breath and to all physical sensations that go with it: in your nose, mouth, chest, belly, back, etc. Over time, you can choose to add further objects of observation: your body, your thoughts, your emotions, sounds around you, etc.
Make friends with yourself, having a compassionate stance towards whatever is arising in your body/mind.
Let yourself be surprised by what shows up in the present moment. Be curious!
You are not asked to stop thinking (impossible, we are thinking creatures!) but when a thought arrives, as soon as you notice it, try not to “fall into” the thought. Just observe it, label it and let it go.
Notice possible judgments you may have towards yourself. If you find you are judging the way you are practicing mindfulness, be also kind with this judgmental part of you and come back to observing the breath.
3 – For how long, when, and where
There are no contraindications in practicing Mindfulness galore. However, even 10-15 minutes every day, regularly done, at the same time of the day, can have a tangible beneficial impact on your overall wellbeing.
Choose a time of the day that is good for you, protected from the incursions of daily life.
Choose a place you love and where you feel safe.
Create your own “ritual”: light a candle or an incense, do whatever may help you to “celebrate” this moment.
Use a timer with an alarm to set your Mindfulness time so that you can forget the watch.
4 – The benefits
Mindfulness is first of all a way to discover ourselves, to get to know ourselves better. It is a practice that supports us in developing awareness of many aspects of our body/mind system we usually do not pay attention to. It contributes to reduce stress, and it is an amazing support when we are forced to face negative emotions. It trains our mind to observe our difficult feelings from a certain distance, helping us to dis-identify ourselves from them and to consider them not as the totality of our experience but as a transitory part of it.
5 – Links and books to know more
Dan Siegel, M.D. – Discussing the science of mindfulness
Jon Kabat-Zinn – Practical Stress Reduction
Jon Kabat-Zinn (1994). Dovunque tu vada ci sei già. New York: Bantam Dell.
Chögyam Trungpa (1969). Meditation in Action. London: Stuart & Watkins.
© Valentina Iadeluca, August 2017