By: Dr. Miriam Franco
The term mindfulness is certainly getting much use these days. Such phrases as “be mindful”, “practice mindful meditation”, and “be in the moment” are interspersed in daily conversation across various areas of life. Yet many find it hard to really understand, in plain English, just what mindfulness really means.
Mindfulness is a particular conscious state of mind that, with practice, can sharpen certain mental faculties, processes and modes of awareness. It stems originally from Vipassana, one of the oldest of Buddhist meditation practices. In this practice, there is a direct and gradual cultivation of awareness. Over time, your attention is carefully directed to an intense examination of aspects of your existence. As you learn to relax and meditate, you learn to become attentive more and more to the flow of life experience. It is, in effect, a form of sensitivity training, a type of method of exercising your awareness. It engages attentive listening, full seeing and careful observation allowing you to be more present in the moment. Take in the particular features and aspects of experience as in smell more acutely, touch more fully and really pay close attention to what you feel.The purpose of becoming more mindful in this way is to learn to really pay attention without judgment and constant distraction.
Often we think we are doing this, but just as frequently this is an illusion. In a mindful state, we cultivate a special way of seeing reality. Instead of looking at life through a constant stream of concepts and thoughts or mental objects we mistake for reality, we learn to not get so caught up in endless thinking and let reality float by unnoticed. Rather than spending time being engaged in activity and distractions, pursuing an eternal path of pleasure and security, or fleeing from pain and unpleasantness, we train ourselves to ignore the constant urge to be more comfortable. It is often ironically stated in meditational practice that real peace comes only when you stop chasing it.
This state of mind can be achieved through meditation training or relaxation and sensory meditation training (Guided Imagery). In time, we slowly become more attuned and in touch with the way we actually are. Life has a much deeper texture if we bother to reflect on it and to look in at it in this way of practice. It’s a type of self-discovery process in which you observe your own experiences while participating in them as they occur. Over time, you find yourself observing things more the way they are flowing and changing and interacting with them more fully from moment to moment. This can add a relaxed, reflective attitude towards one’s self, others and life. This special mode of perception is called mindfulness.
*Dr. Miriam Franco is a psychologist in private practice in Wayne, PA and is a certified MS specialist and a Guided Imagery specialist. She also serves on the Health Care Advisory Council of the MSAA and is a Professor of Sociology at Immaculata University.