What is Mindfulness: The Concept and Practice
Mindfulness refers to the ability of complete and continuous awareness and consciousness. This state is especially helpful during emotional turmoil. Mindfulness is a skill derived from Buddhist psychology that has been practiced for more than 2,500 years. The word “mindfulness” was translated from the Pali word “sati” that means “awareness, attention, and remembering.” Attention means focused awareness, and remembering means remembering to be aware. Although mindfulness is not enough for achieving happiness, it can provide a basis for the other elements (Rapgay and Bystrisky, 2009). Mindfulness can be an important part for changing the mind habits that contribute to suffering and unhappiness, including greed, anger, envy, and arrogance. It can be a useful tool for the observance on how suffering is generated by the mind moment by moment. Such observation can help with the development of wisdom and insight for alleviating suffering.
In addition to awareness and attention, clinical and therapeutic mindfulness also include the qualities of non-judgment, acceptance, and compassion. Three elements have been defined in the meaning of therapeutic mindfulness, including “awareness, of present experience, with acceptance.” (Germer et al., 2005) The word “mindfulness” has the opposite meaning of “mindlessness”, as our common mind habits are staying in the past memories or jumping to the future fantasies. Mindfulness is the training to pay attention to the current moment and being present.
Mindfulness is not to turn the mind blank. Instead, it is to increase the awareness of the mind. The mental activities, including emotions, will be more vivid rather than emotionless. As our attention turns to the moment-by-moment experience, we are engaged in our life more fully rather than withdrawing or escaping. Mindfulness is not to reject unpleasant experiences, but to have higher capability to bear them.
Mindfulness can be practiced in our daily life by paying more attention to the present moment (but without changing the routines). Meditation can also help increase mindfulness, by focusing the attention on a chosen object such as the breath and returning the focus to the object whenever the mind wanders away. There are also meditation retreats with extended periods of meditation training.
Germer, C., Siegel, R., & Fulton, P. (Eds.) (2005). Mindfulness and psychotherapy. New York: Guilford Press.
Rapgay, L. & Bystrisky, A. (2009). Classical mindfulness: An introduction to its theory and practice for clinical application. In Longevity and Optimal Health: Integrating Eastern and Western perspectives. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1172, 148-162.