Mindfulness Jon Kabat-Zinn described Mindfulness as the process in which you pay attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally. He said, as others have, that Mindfulness is not a belief system, but rather, Mindfulness describes a way of noticing our thoughts, physical sensations, sights, sounds, smells all in the present moment, which is really the only moment we have at any one time. This is the space in-between the past and the future, and every given moment, and certainly, the moment is always the most important moment, because it will be, at some stage, the moment before the moment of our deaths, which, for all practical purposes, is unknowable, and so every moment is of absolutely vital importance.
Mindfulness skills may sound simple, however, because our minds are constantly searching for inputs, information and meaning from many different sources at once, to stay absolutely focused in the present moment is challenging and takes practice. Intra-actional Analysis considers that Mindfulness is the engagement of the Adult with the Free Child ego state, in that the individual is focused upon living in and experiencing the present moment, without judgement and the subscription of meaning. A client suggested to me recently that “Why does everything, action etc have to have meaning” why can’t we, in other words, passively experience the present moment and morph within it. This is the challenge of Mindfulness and in this sense then Mindfulness is meditation in every sense of the word.
Kabat-Zinn provides the example that we might look around the garden and think “That grass needs cutting or the vegetable patch needs weeding”, whereas, the young child will be in the same place but say “Hey – come and look at this ant!” In this way then, Mindfulness is noticing what we don’t normally notice, because our minds are clouded by thoughts and concerns about the future, or the past, and typically, we think about what we need to do, or we ruminate over that which we have done. Mindfulness can be described as choosing and learning to control our focus of attention, by merging with the environment around us, again leaving our ego states behind as we attempt to perceive and experience the world around us in a non-judgmental way. As soon as we start to classify, judge, reason etc, then we are back in the ego states, once again, and we know now that the ego states carry inherent potentials to falsely represent the world around us. So, by becoming more aware of our thoughts, feelings, and body sensations, from moment to moment, we give ourselves the possibility of greater freedom and choice.
When we garden, for example, or go for a walk, we tend to be preoccupied with thoughts of what we have to do in the future, what we have done in the immediate, or more distant past, worrying about future events, or flashes of remorse about past events, but typically, we are not focusing upon the actual gardening tasks (selecting the weed, feeling the stem in our hands, noticing the resistance as the weed is pulled from the ground, and following the path of the weed into the pile on the path beside the garden. Or, even though we are walking, we are not experiencing the rhythm of the action itself, hearing the birds above, noticing the changing light patterns on the trees around us, monitoring our body sensations during the activity. If thoughts intrude during any of the activities it is best to notice these first, and then gently return to the task or activity itself. In meditation, consider that a thought is merely a reminder to return to the focus on your breath, nothing more and nothing less. These actions are creating the space within which in turn allows for the reunification and rebalancing of the ego states.