“…one of the first things you learn when you travel is that nowhere is magical unless you can bring the right eyes to it. You take an angry man to the Himalayas, he just starts complaining about the food. And I found that the best way that I could develop more attentive and more appreciative eyes was, oddly, by going nowhere, just by sitting still. And of course sitting still is how many of us get what we most crave and need in our accelerated lives, a break. But it was also the only way that I could find to sift through the slideshow of my experience and make sense of the future and the past.”
Pico Iyer (Travel Writer, The Art of Stillness)
In today’s modern world, where life appears rushed, it is difficult to find time to relax. The excessive use of technology has also changed the way people approach the idea of ‘me time'. Hence, Mindfulness attempts to mitigate that gap and serves as a medium for us to return and respond to what is present within.
So what exactly is Mindfulness? Simply put, mindfulness is the art of traveling within; it is a mental state achieved by paying attention to the present. Essentially, mindfulness is the skill of focusing on the present moment by observing thoughts and feelings from a distance, without being stuck in the future or past and, trying to change, control or judge anything.
A Buddhist scholar, T. H. Rhys Davids, coined the term ‘mindfulness’ in 1881, where he described it as “remembering to focus on what is otherwise too easily forgotten: the present”. Jon Kabat-Zinn later developed various mindfulness exercises and introduced the notion that, attending to cognitive, emotional and bodily states can help in stress reduction and increase the overall performance of individuals.
Though mindfulness is something everyone innately possesses, it becomes available to us when we practice it on a daily basis. Whenever we bring awareness to what we are directly experiencing and to our state of mind, through our senses, thoughts and emotions, we are being mindful. Growing research into this topic that focuses on Contemplative Psychotherapy shows that when we train our brain to be mindful, we are actually remodeling the physical structure of our brain.
Meditation is a vital part of mindfulness. ‘Mindfulness meditation’ as a concept has started to receive regard for its therapeutic effectiveness in a broad range of illnesses, conditions, and settings. Despite increasing evidence for the clinical usefulness of mindfulness, there is still considerable debate in scientific circles over its therapeutic process with the practice still under debate in academic circles.
Being mindful in basic daily activities including eating, drinking, walking or even cleaning, can be a healthy practice. It can be practiced almost anywhere as it does not require costly equipment or accessories. Anyone can practice, as there are no age restrictions and it can be undertaken either individually or in a group. Even children, as young as 3 years, can practice mindfulness meditation.
The terms “meditation” and “mindfulness” are used quite often these days, with uses ranging from mental health to weight loss and healthy living. However, the terms used are synonyms where in their basic forms; they refer to the same concept of ‘calming your frenzied mind’.
The repeated discussions about the differences between mindfulness and meditation receive differing interpretations by various sources and schools of thoughts. However, in that debate what we often forget is that they complement each other, and they very often overlap, yet at the same time, have their own specific definition and purpose.
In a nutshell, mindfulness meditation or meditation is the formal, broader term describing the conscious and deliberate exercise of being aware. It involves taking out time from ones routine to turn attention inward, for practicing mindfulness, building tolerance or relaxation etc. Mindfulness on the other hand is the practice of focusing or paying attention. Incorporating this mental act in everyday life requires no formal restrictions.
Here is an article to help understand why mindfulness is important in our lives: https://ideas.ted.com/why-we-need-a-secular-sabbath/