Mindfulness is a state of being fully present. To be mindful is to allow ourselves to connect with what is happening right here, right now, without distraction. Mindfulness shows us how to be with ourselves and in connection with others.
An Altered State of Consciousness
Most of us know at least two ordinary states of consciousness: wakefulness and sleep. Mindfulness is an altered state of consciousness in between these two states. Less active and more centered than ordinary wakefulness, mindfulness is state of relaxation so restful that it borders on sleep. The potential for mindfulness to evoke such shifts in consciousness while being accessible on a moment-to-moment basis makes it both an extraordinary yet ordinary state of consciousness.
More than Awareness
Often used synonymously, mindfulness and awareness are not the same thing. Awareness happens when we gain a cognitive understanding of something we recognize is either happening right in this moment or has happened in a past moment. Mindfulness is qualitatively different from awareness. Mindfulness involves paying attention to and engaging in whatever is happening in a given moment. It could be a feeling, a sensation, a thought, an image, a memory, a movement, or an impulse. We can only really focus on one thing at a time. Mindfulness is being in the present moment without necessarily having or needing to have an intellectual understanding of your experience in that moment. When we bring mindfulness to the present moment in a sustained way, we not only gain clarity and insight into our individual phenomenology, we learn how to be more present in our relationships and our lives. With more information coming in and being processed, we can make wiser decisions.
Benefits of Mindfulness
Choosing to engage in mindfulness is choosing to live a more conscious, peaceful, and balanced life, and these choices are reflected in your relationships. Operating with greater mindfulness in your everyday life benefits everyone—you, your family, your friends, your colleagues, and every other being with whom you have a relationship or come into contact. Mindfulness training is a powerful skill set to have in your tool belt, setting you up for a richer, healthier, and more satisfying life.
The word mindfulness is derived from ancient Buddhist forms of meditation. Traditionally, it is through regular, ongoing meditation in silence and stillness that the state of mindfulness is cultivated. That said, meditation is not the only way to experience a state of mindfulness. There are many ways to do that. Whether or not you meditate, you can cultivate mindfulness and compassion in your life.