1. Paying attention in a particular way
2. On purpose
3. In the present moment
4. And perhaps most challenging, this must all take place non-judgmentally.
It is important to note that mindfulness practice includes all 4 bullet points above, and that all 4 points must work together at the same time. So if you act judgmental towards an experience, it is no longer mindfulness. If you are thinking of the past, you are no longer in the present, and thus again, this is no longer mindfulness. For example, this morning I forgot my keys to the mailbox and I remembered this in the car. I judgmentally said to myself “You’ve got to slow down Kristen” while also hitting my steering wheel. This is an unmindful reaction because the judgment I put over this experience took me out of the present moment and certainly heightened my emotional state. The reality of the matter is, it’s really no big deal that I forgot my keys. Typically, experiences are no big deal, but over time though our culture, past experiences, and memory our brain sends a false signal, “this is a HUGE deal so freak out, overreact, and shut down”. But we have a choice here. We have a choice to shift our perspective on how we deal with the present moment, letting our emotions rise and fall without necessarily reacting or overreacting. So, after I hit my steering wheel, I noticed how silly I was reacting, and boom, I was in the present moment, just like that. I became mindful, I relaxed, and I actually enjoyed my drive back home to retrieve my forgotten mailbox keys. Mindfulness is not something we do once, it is a lifetime practice. It is a practice of bringing our wondering monkey mind back to the present moment. We do this over and over and over again. So if we get distracted, the practice is not judging ourselves for being human, the practice is noticing the distraction, or if we do judge our distraction, the practice then, is noticing how unkind we are to ourselves. Perhaps we can add a little humor to our judgmental self too, because it’s really no big deal.
Your brain on mindfulness:
In this short You Tube video mindfulness expert Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines “What is mindfulness?” and discusses the hard work and rewards of practicing mindfulness.
When is the last time you did absolutely nothing for 10 whole minutes? Mindfulness expert Andy Puddicombe describes the transformative power of doing just that: Refreshing your mind for 10 minutes a day, simply by being mindful and experiencing the present moment.
Dr. Daniel J Siegel, Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute, and Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine, provides a thorough explanation of the brain science behind mindfulness practice.