Mindfulness is the profound art of noticing the many incredible aspects of our experience in each moment. Mindfulness means awareness of the present moment and developing this awareness supports us in our quest to be and feel well.

Being in the present

Our minds play a key role in our experience of distress and wellbeing. Much of the time, we are not actually in the present moment but are caught up in thinking about what is happening, has happened in the past or might happen in the future. While this ability to think about our experiences is an essential part of what it means to be human, getting caught up in thought can be problematic, particularly if these thoughts are negative and/or self-critical. Mindfulness doesn’t mean stopping the thoughts. It means noticing sooner rather than later where the mind has journeyed off to and bringing our attention back to the present moment. This is not easy, due to the tendency of the mind to wander, hence the emphasis on mindfulness practice.

Practising mindfulness

Mindfulness invites us to turn towards our experience, whatever it is. There are times when we can all find ourselves on automatic pilot, doing something without fully noticing. This can contribute to us reacting in unhelpful ways, which may be self-limiting or self-defeating, and mindfulness can help us to respond to these experiences more effectively.

Through practising mindfulness we increase our awareness of all aspects of our experience, including our thoughts and how these can affect how we feel and what we do. Our mind is constantly judging our experience, whether we like or dislike it. We want more of what we like and less of what we don’t! This tendency can be problematic, as we invest in trying to avoid the unpleasant and seek out the pleasant.  Trying to fix situations and make them how we want them to be can exacerbate our distress when this is not possible, digging ourselves deeper into the hole of distress. If things are not how we want them to be, we can also get caught up in judging our experiences and judging ourselves, digging ourselves still deeper.

Part of what we are cultivating through mindfulness practice is befriending, befriending ourselves and our experience. So mindful awareness is always infused with kindness and taking care of ourselves. Befriending and acceptance don’t mean that we like what is distressing or difficult. Mindfulness doesn’t necessarily change what is happening around us, or even our thoughts and feelings, though this can be the case. What is transformed is the way we experience what is happening. The path of mindfulness is a path of waking up to our lives.

Tolerating uncertainty is difficult. Turning towards difficulties is often the opposite to what we feel compelled to do; to run, hide or fight back.  Recognition of these patterns is the first step towards mindful responding. We have a range of options but these need to be practised. Beneath the waves of our difficult experiences, we can connect with the breath and a greater sense of calmness and clarity. As Jon Kabat-Zinn has said, “you can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf”.

Join a mindfulness course

Joining a mindfulness course can enhance well-being, help cope with stress and improve mood.