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What is Mindfulness, and How Do I Start?

"Mindfulness" is a core component of many effective psychotherapies. When I begin talking about mindfulness, my clients often ask some variation of this: "What is mindfulness, anyway? Are you going to ask me to close my eyes and sit in silence while attempting to quiet my very unruly mind?"

Many people are surprised to learn that they don't necessarily have to change anything about WHAT they are doing, in order to practice mindfulness. Increasing mindfulness simply requires that we pay attention, in a special kind of way, to what we are doing from moment to moment to moment. It's less about WHAT we are doing and more about HOW we are doing it.

Here, I offer a very basic definition of mindfulness:

*Paying attention

*On purpose (with intention)

*To the present moment (to what is happening RIGHT NOW!)

*Non-judgmentally (observation without evaluation; this takes practice!)

If you've been thinking about increasing your mindfulness muscle, but you don't know how to start, try starting with something simple that you do every day. Some examples: having a cup of coffee or tea, eating a meal, showering, brushing your teeth, walking, stretching, exercising, petting your cat/dog/pet, breathing. Start with small increments of time - seconds or just a couple of minutes. Slowly increase your practice to include mindfulness of other everyday activities. Most people are surprised by how the quality of their experience begins to change when they start "showing up" to their moments.

One of the most important things to remember: Your mind WILL wander, because that is how our minds operate! There is nothing wrong with your mind for wandering, and a wandering mind does not mean that you are "doing it wrong." To the contrary! If you notice that your mind has wandered, you are being mindful (of your wandering mind!). Your one and only job is to observe. When your mind wanders, observe the "wandering" with curiosity, rather than criticism (beware of judgment!), and gently bring your attention back to whatever it is that you intend to pay attention to.

Whether you are new to mindfulness practice, returning to it, or a dedicated practitioner, your moment-to-moment journey awaits!


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