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Getting Started with Mindfulness

Mindfulness has become a buzzword in the mainstream, and its meaning got increasingly murky. Let’s take a closer look at its meaning, origin, evolution, and practices.

We have come a long way from hunting-gathering to grocery shopping. It is a tremendous journey and demanding one. Besides incredible development, we also got a plethora of modern physical and mental illnesses.

We yearn for a sense of peace and focus in our overstimulated modern lives. We are seeking a magical solution to our modern problems. No wonder mindfulness is a fast-growing industry, estimated to be valued at over USD 6.8 Billion by 2030.

“Mindfulness shows us what is happening in our bodies, our emotions, our minds, and in the world. Through mindfulness, we avoid harming ourselves and others.” - Thich Nhat Hanh

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the way of living by being aware of our present thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them.

“Mindfulness shows us what is happening in our bodies, our emotions, our minds, and in the world. Through mindfulness, we avoid harming ourselves and others.” - Thich Nhat Hanh

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” - Jon Kabat-Zinn

Origin of Mindfulness

The centuries-old Buddhist practice of “Sati”, which is the “moment to moment awareness of present events” is the origin of mindfulness. In 1881, Thomas William Rhys Davids, a British magistrate in Sri Lanka used the word “mindfulness” to translate “Sati” into the English language.

In the Buddhist context, mindfulness meditation or “Sati” has three major purposes:

1. Know your mind

One of Buddha’s teachings is that as humans, we create suffering and problems in our own minds. Our sense of ‘self’, is rooted in ego-centrism, attachment, and discrimination. By practicing reflection without judgment, we become aware of our motivations, feelings, and reactions. We can become attuned to what we’re thinking about, with a focus on ‘knowing’, rather than judgment.

2. Train your mind

This awareness enables us to train and shape our minds. By ‘knowing’ more about our thoughts, feelings, and motivations, we can find ways to be kinder to ourselves. This leads to the development of compassion, courage, and the capacity to release clinging.

3. Free your mind

Non-judgment is a large part of Buddhist philosophy, and the third purpose is to practice it with yourself. This helps us to let unwanted emotions pass through, and remain relaxed while opening ourselves to more of what is positive.

Evolution of Mindfulness

Jon Kabat-Zinn is credited to bring mindfulness to the American mainstream as a secular and scientific practice. He learned about the philosophical tenets of Buddhism while studying at MIT. In 1979, he started a Stress Reduction Center at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He developed a secular eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course based on Buddhist teachings.

How to practice mindfulness

You can practice mindfulness anytime and anywhere. Simple acts of cooking, eating, walking, and cleaning can be the time to practice mindfulness. Start small by complete attention to whatever you are doing. You will be amazed how quickly thoughts will start flowing in, don’t hold to any thoughts, acknowledge them, and let them go.

Here are a few mindfulness exercises to start your journey towards inner peace:

  • Breathing: Mindful breathing is powerful and yet a simple way to ease your mind. It involves slowing down and paying attention to your breath.

  • Meditation: Meditation is often confused with mindfulness, it is one of the tools for mindfulness. Meditation helps you center yourself and regain control of your headspace.

  • Yoga and T’ai chi: Yoga and T’ai chi are great practices to become more aware of your body and mind. It is not about flexibility or power, it is about moving your body and mind in unison.

  • Journaling: Journaling can help you become more mindful of your thoughts. Start with “how’s my heart today?” to uncover your stress factors and tune with your feelings.

Further Readings

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