It’s a word that’s thrown around often these days – especially as our fast-paced lifestyles only become faster. But what does “mindfulness” actually mean?
What is mindfulness?
“Mindfulness can be described as paying attention to and accepting this moment as it is – no judgment, no thinking required,” says Lucille Meisner, a Master of Social Work and a Registered Social Worker with Manitoba Blue Cross’s Employee Assistance Program.
“In mindfulness, we are in this place, at this time,” she says. “I often refer to it as bringing your mind home.”
How does mindfulness work?
Mindfulness helps calm us by turning our focus away from our often racing thoughts and turning them towards where we are and what we’re doing now.
Meisner uses the example of focusing on your breathing.
“By focusing on the breath, we bring attention away from the mind, which is always trying to sort out, anticipate, plan, organize, control and often judge,” she says.
She compares the mind to a blue sky, and our thoughts as clouds that we want to let roll by. The blue sky is always there, but these clouds can block it.
“Our thoughts can be a constant source of stress,” she says. “So, it is not about having a blank mind – but rather letting it be.” Paul McCartney would be proud!
Meisner recommends practicing mindfulness during daily tasks.
“When sipping a cup of tea, just sip the tea and enjoy the taste – any thoughts not associated with the tea we want to let be. We tend to multi-task – mindfulness is about a single focus on what is simply in front of us. One thought, one activity.”
How mindfulness can help
With so many aspects of our daily lives out of our control, mindfulness helps us manage the only thing we can influence – our thoughts.
“If we can manage our thoughts, we can influence our emotional states and our actions,” she says. “Mindfulness helps us see more clearly the habits that our minds have created and we begin to see how our thoughts can be a constant source of stress – and even suffering. Just because we think a thought doesn’t mean we have to chase it. And for those with a critical voice: just because we think it does not mean that it is true. To be mindful is an act of self-compassion.”
Mindfulness vs. meditation
“We can think of mindfulness as required for meditation, but meditation is not required for mindfulness,” Meisner says.
Meditation is a sustained awareness of attention and thought release over time. It often involves an object or mantra for sustained focus and is typically done in stillness.
“Meditation is more of a ritual, whereas mindfulness can be in every moment of every day,” she adds. “Every interaction can be mindful, but not necessarily meditative. Mindfulness can be our state all day long – both at work and at play.”
Making mindfulness a daily practice
When going about your daily routine, try as often as possible to put your full attention on the current moment – to the person in front of you, to the note you are reading.
“For example, while reading this article you could notice your mind is also on the meeting you have in an hour or the friend you are meeting after work,” Meisner says. “Notice with kindness, ‘Oh, I am thinking about my meeting – am I willing to let that be and bring my mind to this article?’ When we do this through taking a breath, we bring our full attention to the moment we are in. Similarly, when in the meeting we can be thinking of our evening. Notice with gentleness, ‘Oh, I am thinking about my friend – am I willing to let that be for now and bring my mind back to this moment, in this place, at this time?’ When we do this, we bring our full attention to what is in front of us rather than the running commentary in our minds.”
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