What is mindfulness?
One definition of mindfulness is simply the act of consciously choosing to pay attention to what is happening in the present moment.
Is that not what we are always doing anyway?
No, not when our thoughts are directed towards anything or anyone or any time that is not right here and right now; nor when we are commenting on, judging or thinking about what is happening here and now. This kind of non-mindful attention is not a bad thing that we should be trying to avoid; it is just a different kind of attention to that of mindfulness practise.
It is surprising just how different the state of mindfulness is to how we normally are and how much it can be a catalyst for change even though we are not trying to change anything at all. We are normally within an experience being affected by it, with mindfulness we can be totally aware of something and therefore we are no longer within it but looking at it from outside and we are therefore less influenced.
So what do I do when I am practising mindfulness?
Essentially we do not do anything, we simply be; but that is a very unhelpful answer to this question. It is far easier for the mind if we give it certain things to do and thereby trick it into entering a state of being. So we ask the mind to focus lightly on things that are happening in the present moment and things that will happen regardless of whether or not we are aware of them; things that don’t need the mind in order for them to take place, such as: sounds, sensations in the body and breathing.
The key is to allow yourself to adopt an interested and inquisitive approach whilst maintaining a relaxed, open and neutral outlook; be an observer of the flow of momentary experience without having any need to judge, change or encourage anything that we become aware of. Use your attention to become aware, accept whatever you become aware of, allow it to be exactly as it is, and then have a feeling of letting go and letting be.
What if my mind keeps drifting off?
This is very likely to happen a lot and isn’t a problem at all because as soon as you become aware that your mind has wandered, in that exact moment you are being mindful; so the more often you notice your mind wandering the more mindful you are being! When you notice your mind has wandered take a moment to acknowledge the success of having noticed this happening and spend some time being aware of where your mind has wandered to. Then, when you are ready, gently guide your attention to the chosen area of focus for the mindfulness practise.
What is the effect of mindfulness?
Everybody will experience this in their own way as we are all starting with our own unique experiences. The effect is generally of an undoing of tension in the mind and body and this could be experienced as relief, happiness, love, freedom, bliss, enlightenment, awareness or a sense of a spiritual dimension or presence. The core of all these experiences is the fact that fundamentally we are consciousness and when we let go into the reality of the present moment we move closer to the experience our essential nature.
It is fundamentally important for the practise of mindfulness that you do not make any effort to, nor have any expectations that you will, experience any of these things. We must just have an intention to be mindful of the present moment and then just wait patiently to see if anything happens or not. Mindfulness begins instantly the moment we have this intention to be present, the process of benefits that arise from this practise take time and there is no end point we need to reach, just as there is no end point to the constant flow of the present.