What is Mindfulness?

Discover “The Art of Living and Performing Mindfully” in National Psychology Week, Adelaide 2011

Mindfulness has become one of the hottest topics in Western society in recent years as a growing body of research has determined that it is effective as a way of reducing stress, dealing with depression, living a more fulfilling life, improving communication, enriching our experiences and improving performance. So what is all this talk about? What do we mean when we say that someone is practising mindfulness?

Many of you may have heard about mindfulness meditation, and think that you can only be mindful if you are in a classic meditation pose contemplating your navel, but in fact mindfulness is not restricted to meditation. Meditation happens to be one of the ancient ways that have been used to foster the state of mindfulness, a state that relies on fostering an attitude of openness, awareness and non judgemental attention and observation. Take a moment to think about one of the most classic definitions  of mindfulness from one of the key leaders in this field , John Kabat Zinn.

Mindfulness: “Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn).  Kabat-Zinn has coined it, “The Art of conscious living.”, a definition and perspective that draws attention to the fact that many of us move through this world in a mindless way, operating in automatic mode, rather than consciously. How many of you have had the experience of driving home from work and wondering how you got there? So often we are caught up in our minds and distracted, rather than paying attention in a purposeful way and in doing so we miss a lot of our life experience, resulting in a more narrow experience of the world that loses the curiosity and wonder of a child’s experience of the world. Next time you watch a young child, watch the way they interact with the world and observe the natural curiosity that drives them to explore the way the world works as they interact with it and notice the joy that simple things like pouring water bring. What a shame we lose this over time as we develop the capacity for language. It seems that once we have the ability to label an experience and try to interpet it, we stop using our observational skills and limit our curiousity.

One of my most favourite definitions of mindfulness is from Dr Russ Harris, an Australian Dr and talented therapist who inspired me when I was completing his training in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) some years ago now. He defines mindfulness as

“Paying attention with openness, curiosity and flexibility.”This definition captures the notion that :

a)     mindfulness is not a thinking state, but a state of awareness

b)     a state that allows us to be curious rather than judgemental about our experience

c)      a state that increases our flexibility by allowing us to narrow or broaden our attention as appropriate to the circumstances and moment.

Dr Russ Harris was able to define mindfulness in a way that made sense to me and to my clients. His work in ACT most notably with “The Happiness Trap” which started me on this journey of discovery has been instrumental in my development as a psychologist and as a person over the last few years. This has taught me that we are all able to benefit from living a life more mindfully and to understand how effective this is in achieving a more fulfilling and meaningful life. His work in “The Confidence Trap” has helped crystallise the concepts I have been intuitively working with performers for years, as I have come to better understand that performance requires present task focused attention and mindfulness is the tool that can be learnt that assists performers in all fields. The moment a performer’s mind drifts to things like “Will they like it?”, “What if I don’t get that high note?” or “They look bored”, the connection with the music and the communication and expression of the music is lost. Mindfulness is relevant for all of us, whether we be mums trying to attach successfully to our children and form positive relationships, executives trying to focus in a meeting, performers aiming to achieve their best and everything in between.

As part of National Psychology Week, we have decided to trial a new concept for the local community within our practice. This will be a discussion forum which will give community members, health professionals and performing arts students and professionals the opportunity to come together to discuss a topic of relevance, in this case –‘The Art of Living and Performing Mindfully”. This is the first of many discussion forums which will be held at my North Adelaide practice as a way of increasing accessibility to community members and opening the doors so people may better understand what psychologists do and how we can help people.

National Psychology Week (13-19 November) is an initiative of the Australian Psychological Society (APS), aimed at increasing public awareness about psychology, psychological issues and the role psychologists play in community wellbeing.  During NPW this year, the findings from the national APS Stress and Wellbeing Survey will be released along with a tip sheet about understanding and managing stress.

Do yourself a big favour and take a moment to be mindful today and notice the difference.

Subscribe to our newsletter Attuned Life

Would you be interested in receiving our occasional newsletter, event information and other useful tips via e-mail?

Subscription Form