What Mindfulness Actually Is

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Last week I wrote about the practice of mindfulness and some of the misconceptions that people have.

Let’s forward the conversation and talk about what mindfulness actually is.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, a leader in modern mindfulness practice, defines mindfulness simply as paying attention to the present moment on purpose without judgment.

However simple the definition, the practice of it is as fruitful as it is challenging.

The human mind is a wandering mind. We use events of the past to provide meaning and insight into the present and project that to add veiled certainty into the future. We constantly switch from past memories to future scenarios and make judgments about it all along the way.

This construct makes us human and it’s also the foundation of our suffering.

I’m working with a coaching client, a highly successful business owner, who has a history of working with other coaches on their business. One of their challenges in their mind is the lack of structure around their business generation. They commit to specific activities and fall short. Recently, they said that this pattern always shows up in coaching relationships.

This client is living in the past, judging their prior performance and projecting that same perspective into the future. I’m sure it’s as clear to you as it is to me that whatever they did or didn’t do years ago doesn’t affect what they can do today.

This is the beauty of mindfulness. When this client removed the judgment and truly focused on just the present moment, they were able to see that they have control over their actions and can take different approaches to get their goals.

Here’s a few descriptions for what mindfulness actually is…

Awareness of one’s self in the present

When I am mindful, I am keenly aware of my experience. It doesn’t mean that I’m always doing the right thing when I’m mindful, I am simply fully aware.

My health journey depends on me eating healthily. Yet, I love rich foods. So, on occasion I will mindfully indulge. I know exactly what I’m doing, and usually I’ve planned for the indulgence. However, when I lose the mindfulness and I overeat, that’s a problem.

Provides space

The paradox to the practice is ironic. A mindful practice observes what is happening, without judgment or the need to change anything.

When I am practicing mindfulness in the mists of something unwanted – a feeling, action, even a thought loop – the observation of it brings to light the unnecessary nature of it. That’s the irony. When I’m not trying to change something, just simply noticing, I am much more likely to notice the fallacy in my suffering and naturally make a change.

The mindful presence provides the space from the projections of the past or future so that I can see it with more objectivity.

Accepting of what current is

It’s coined radical acceptance. So often, when we meet resistance or uncomfortableness, we have the strong desire to a) label it as such and b) activity move away from it.

Mindfulness invites you to accept the present as it currently is – good, bad or ugly. What makes this radical is that it’s not passive or being pushed over. Moreover, it’s an acceptance of the current reality of a situation. Once we accept it, we have more power and control to choose the next move.

Moves off the cushion into real life

When you practice conscious presence non-judgmentally and bring your naturally wandering mind back to focus, you will begin to recognize when your mind takes you off track in real life situations. You’ll be pulled to come back to the present moment.

This shows up in parenting my almost 8 and 4 year old girls. The natural frustrating moments as parents – non-listening, acting out, etc. – can trigger even the best of us. Our kids are brilliant at that. With mindfulness, I am more likely to feel the triggering and my mind jumping to negative space. Instead of unconsciously responding with frustration and anger, I can come back to the present to react more like the Dad that I strive to be.

If business or other life factors are causing you difficulty or suffering – and therefore stifling your performance, goals or greater fulfillment – looking into building in a mindfulness practice to help you remain the strong, capable person that you are.

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