Mindfulness has received growing attention and popularity in recent years from a variety of different groups within society. Most recently, it has become popular amongst corporate leaders, students, those suffering from stress and has even been introduced into medical programs as a form of complementary medicine.
One reason for its increasing popularity is that studies have shown it’s effectiveness in combating a range of medical and psychological problems such as cardiac problems, anxiety, high blood pressure whilst boosting self-esteem and creativity. Not only that, many have found (including myself) that mindfulness brings a sense of awareness and tranquillity that can be helpful in, not just stressful or high pressured moments, but in achieving peace in the moment whatever the situation might be.
What exactly is mindfulness?
Melli O’Brien who runs the Mrs. Mindfulness blog describes mindfulness as “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and the surrounding environment.” She adds that “Mindfulness also involves non-judgment, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings with the attitude of an impartial witness”. I believe, the key point here is that mindfulness is about being aware of what is happening in the present moment and about finding peace with what is occurring.
The practice of mindfulness can also be applied to everyday situations and other aspects of life as is described by the five mindfulness trainings developed by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist.
A shortened version of the five mindfulness trainings are as follows:
(The full version can be found here.)
Reverence for life – Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals.
True Happiness – Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting.
True Love – Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society.
Loving Speech and Deep Listening- Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations.
Nourishment and Healing – Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practising mindful eating, drinking, and consuming.
So how can mindfulness benefit us?
- Leads to positive mind states
Mindfulness practices such as concentrating on being in the present and paying attention to your environment, help to create clarity, focus, and relaxation. Furthermore, they help to bring about positive mind states which lead to actions of a more positive and conscious nature. Shifting our mind state from a stressed one to one that is focused on the awareness of our breathing patterns or our surrounding environment, lead to relaxation and positive thought-processes.
- Teaches us to be more thoughtful in our actions
Mindful teachings could help to guide us in our everyday lives and in making everyday decisions, for they provide us with not only practical advice, but they prompt us to be thoughtful in all aspects of our lives. They reflect certain values such as respect, thoughtfulness and understanding, values that can be applied to any situation or circumstance.
- We do not need to be affiliated with any religion or belief system to practice it
To practice the techniques of mindfulness and to follow the values that it promotes, it is not necessary to believe in Buddhism or to have any spiritual beliefs. In fact, in Thich Nhat Hanh’s 14 trainings of mindfulness, Hanh teaches the importance of openness “Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones.” In this way, I believe that mindfulness can be used by everyone, no matter what religion or worldview they may have and can be approached in isolation to its Buddhist origins.
- Can increase physical and mental well-being
Mindfulness techniques have shown to reduce stress and aid physical well-being in the individual. For example, the Mindfulness based stress reduction program that was developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, has been shown by studies to decrease pain-related drug utilization whilst at the same time increasing activity levels and feelings of self-esteem.
- Promotes loving and compassionate speech
Loving speech and deep listening is something that could benefit humanity greatly. Most conflict, whether it is in relationships between friends, family, partners, spouses or colleagues, happens due to rash and thoughtless speech or to a lack of listening and understanding. If we could find ways of speaking and listening to each other with compassion and love, we could effectively both resolve and prevent conflict from happening.
If you wish to learn more about mindfulness or start actively practising it, check out Wake Up, a global community of young mindful practitioners. They have Sangha groups all over the globe where mindfulness and meditation are practised. Click here to find your closest Sangha group.