What does mindfulness mean?

Picture it. (mindfulness / Flickr)

Have you ever driven a familiar route on “autopilot” – so lost in thought that you remembered nothing about the trip afterward? Have you ever eaten a meal without actually tasting a single bite because you were so occupied with something else? Those experiences are quite common, and they can make us feel that something is missing from our lives.

After the rain

Mindfulness is a “hot topic” at the moment, but what exactly does it mean? The pictures shown online and in magazines seem to suggest that mindful people sit in the grass with their hands in the lotus position a lot, which removes the concept from our immediate reality. However, Jon Kabat-Zinn, who launched the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program in 1979, has a different outlook. “It’s not really about sitting in the full lotus, like pretending you’re a statue in a British museum,” he notes in this Greater Good video. “It’s about living your life as if it really mattered, moment by moment by moment by moment.”

In that sense, being mindful refers to achieving greater awareness, of our surroundings, our bodies, and our emotions. The practice involves noticing—really noticing—what is happening in a given moment so we can experience the sights, sounds, and smells that ordinarily slip by. Fully focusing on small delights – a puppy, a delicious lunch, a beautiful evening sky – or your breath has a number of physical and social benefits. Mindfulness improves concentration, reduces stress, and helps us relate better to other people.

Here are a few ways to incorporate small moments of mindfulness into your busy day (without sitting in the grass in skimpy clothing):

  • Mindful walking: For a short while, focus on your own movement and the things immediately around you. Notice the texture of the ground, the sounds you may hear, and small things that may escape your attention on other days.
  • Mindful eating: Turn off distractions such as your phone or the TV so you can enjoy the taste of your food. Notice how it tastes and what you like about it.
  • Stillness: Find a place where you can let your mind quiet down, even if it is only for a minute or two.

What do you notice? The difference means living a fuller life.

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