Mindfulness doesn’t have to be shrouded in mystery. Searching for inner peace leads us down many paths. From the shelves of books in the self-help section to gurus, coaches, and spiritual leaders, we’re often looking for a direct line from uncertainty to calm. This isn’t about a quick-fix. Far too many are mocked for supposedly wanting that. I think the vast majority are quite willing to put in the time and effort. Unfortunately, explanation and instruction often replace clarity with obfuscation, as if a struggle of understanding is required for wisdom.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is an active mental state of reflective awareness about the present.
- Active – mindfulness is intentional and focused. It isn’t about relaxation, though it can be relaxing, but deliberate engagement with one’s mental life.
- Mental State – mindfulness is a mental state, yet our minds are embodied. You can’t ignore the physical. Acknowledge your physical reality and how your body is the means through which we put thought into action.
- Reflective Awareness – you are aware of some of your behaviors but not as many as you think. To be mindfully aware is to actively seek out and allow more of your experience to be known and seen. This means allowing no single thing to take over your mindsight to the exclusion of everything else.
- Present – To be present is to recognize the transitory nature of our experience. Every present moment is immediately followed and replaced by the next present moment.
As Daniel Siegel, in his book “Mindsight,” puts it:
“Openness implies that we are receptive to whatever comes to our awareness and don’t cling to preconceived ideas about how things “should” be. We let go of expectations and receive things as they are, rather than trying to make them how we want them to be.” (Mindsight)
Not Getting Lost In Your Own Thoughts
There are many ways to talk about mindfulness and even more declarations of what its practice can bring into your life. The focus here is on broadening the contemplation of our lives to make room for new behavior. For that, we turn to how Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) utilizes mindfulness. ACT breaks mindfulness skills down into 3 categories:
Defusion is the distancing and letting go, unhelpful thoughts, beliefs, and memories. Mindfulness allows us to see the transitory nature of our thoughts. Mental states do not last for long at all. We only think they do because of how they loop on themselves through attention and focus. The feeling of being stuck is due to being caught in one of those loops, where all potential action becomes fused to a narrow singular thought or story. Defusion is the process of breaking free of that narrow vision.
Acceptance is making room for painful feelings, urges, and sensations, allowing them to come and go without a struggle. Our mental states change with the speed of thought. We trick ourselves into thinking they last longer through our attention and obsessive focus. This is how pain leads to suffering. Our focus is often on ‘moving past’ or avoiding the pain, but the irony is what we avoid is what ends up running our lives. Acceptance isn’t about being a doormat to be stepped on. It’s an acknowledgment that pain is an inevitable and natural part of living, an indication of change.
Contact with the present moment means engaging fully with your here-and-now experience with an attitude of openness and curiosity. Personal stories or narratives are how we split reality into what we call experiences. No single story can hold the entirety of reality and so there are always more to our lives to be explored. The present moment fades into the next present moment seamlessly and inevitably, a fertile ground for curiosity to find new growth.
Mindfulness: The Present is Calling
We are more than any single thought, emotion or story. No single action can or should define the whole of who we are. Our Values manifest in constantly evolving behavior. Shame ties us to a past that has already gone by, holding us to a falsely narrow vision of who we are capable of being. Mindfulness skills help us explore the present to find the inner peace of healthy questioning, the calm of accepting uncertainty and the personal growth of letting go of our thoughts.
Article: Forget Mindfulness, Stop Trying to Find Yourself and Start Faking It
Book: The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life
Book: Mindsight: the New Science of Personal Transformation
Website: About ACT