What is mindfulness? A question I’ve been asked many times before. Firstly, I believe that mindfulness is a superpower and it really got me wondering about this topic and how I could deconstruct this idea and share it with you.
Your superpowers: your thoughts, your intuition, your belief, your gratitude, your love. USE THEM!
Practicing mindfulness is one of the most powerful things you can do for your wellbeing. Imagine having the ability to accept people and life as they are? To stop blindly reacting to things, and become a calmer and grounded person? YOU CAN! It’s quite simple, so stick around if you want to know how.
Mindfulness has far-reaching benefits and is suitable to all environments read this article on some of the many benefits of mindfulness. Today you will find mindfulness centers, clinics, and educational programs in schools, the workplace, sports arenas, government institutions, and even prisons. It can be adapted to assist parents, business leaders, mental health professionals and to be used at home or on the go. The possibilities are endless and more people are asking the question – What is mindfulness and why is mindfulness a superpower?
Mindfulness tradition has a rich history rooted in many religions. However, mindfulness was popularized in the east by Hindu and Buddhist religions and spiritual institutions. Both Buddhism and Hinduism are concerned with a life that is in harmony with the natural order. Ancient Hindu scriptures highlight meditation and yoga, and an essential part of Buddhism practice is Sati. Sati is mindfulness or awareness and is considered the first step to enlightenment.
Mindfulness made a come back in 1979 when Jon Kabat-Zinn developed what is now called the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program. This was later used to develop the Stress Reduction Clinic at the Medical Faculty at the University of Massachusetts. It has since grown to become the world’s first Centre for Mindfulness Medicine, Health Care, and Society. Thanks to Mr. Kabat-Zinn Mindfulness has had a huge impact on society. Helping to manage physical and emotional issues such as chronic pain, depression, and anxiety to name a few.
In today’s modern word people are constantly rushing, our to-do lists get longer and longer, while time-off gets shorter. We are constantly competing to be the best, have the best and to look the best. There is never enough time and we never switch off. The pressure is always on! As a result of our stressful lives, we have learned to automatically dismiss, avoid, or act out when faced with difficult situations.
We unconsciously waste large amounts of energy reacting to the outside world and to our inner feelings and thoughts. We consume more caffeine, eat more sugar and excess fatty foods and drink more alcohol. We’re angrier, more frustrated and unhappier as a society than ever before.
Cultivating mindfulness, and the reason why mindfulness is a superpower means learning to tap into and focus this wasted energy. In doing so we learn to enter moments of deep relaxation and well-being. We become a wholly integrated human being. Restoring both body and mind. The result is greater clarity in the way we live our lives. Clarity positively impacts our daily choices and we can consciously improve our quality of life. Mindfulness results in deep calmness, self-awareness, and self-empowerment.
“When the flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.”
Much like the flower, to cultivate mindfulness we first need to create the right environment in which it can flourish. After all, a mindfulness superpower must be given the opportunity to grow and evolve. Starting your mindfulness study requires you to have an open mind. It cannot be forced. The attitude you bring to your practice may have more of an effect on your well-being than the practice itself.
The key lies in what Jon Kabat-Zinn called, “The Foundations of Mindfulness Practice: Attitudes and Commitment.” Understanding and applying these 7 attitudes of mindfulness are the start of your mindfulness journey. They are not separate ideas or practices and must be viewed holistically. Each attitude relies on the other to function as a whole.
From a young age, we are unconsciously taught to judge our experiences. We label certain events as “positive” because they have made us feel good and likewise label other events as “negative” because they have made us feel bad. In the same breath, certain experiences are categorized as “neutral” because we do not think about them or attach any emotion to them. As a result, we automatically spend most of our mental strength and time evaluating our experiences based on past events.
These thoughts are often judgments and we end up jumping to conclusions, mislabeling experiences and over-generalizing. Right now if you took 10 minutes to observe your thoughts how much are you preoccupied with liking or disliking how you are feeling? For example, “I shouldn’t be feeling this way”, “I will never be good enough”, “Why is he looking at me that way?”.
Judgments lead to emotional reactivity
These judgments may have no objective basis at all, and yet they consume the mind and lead to reactive behavior. This type of thinking highlights our biases and forces us to view the world subjectively. Stress multiplies in our prejudices and fears. Unnecessarily leeching its way into our daily lives.
Mindfulness is cultivated when you take the time to suspend this judgment and bring yourself back to the here and now. At the same time not allowing yourself to get caught up in your opinions, feelings, and ideas. You take the position of an impartial witness. When thoughts arise and they will, you simply observe them without judgment. Acknowledge the opinion or idea that has entered your mind, and move on. By breaking the habit of constantly categorizing your experiences, you are able to stand back and objectively observe what is happening. Developing a moment-to-moment experience rather than a distorted view of reality.
Patience is a state of being that occurs when we acknowledge and accept that life will unfold as it is meant to. As life happens we go through trials and tribulations, moments of joy and peace. We cannot stop it. This is what it means to live. If you have ever tried to grow your own flowers you know that there is only so much you can do to aid the process. We cannot expect a flower to bloom when we think it should. In the right environment, it will emerge in its own time.
Cultivating patience within ourselves and others is the same. If you find your mind wandering and moving toward judgment, give yourself some room to experience it. When thoughts and emotions pop up, its part of your reality, part of your life experience. So instead of trying to push aside your feelings or hurry through an experience, just let it be. Don’t lose your connection to the present moment. Become completely open to each moment. Accept life in its entirety. The richness of allowing your life to emerge in its own time is why mindfulness is a superpower.
Practicing mindfulness means taking the opportunity to look at life as if it was the first time. Often we let our preconceived ideas and beliefs distort our present reality. We think we already “know” and fail to see things as they really are. We take the ordinary and mundane for granted and neglect to celebrate the present moment.
My therapist once said to me, “you cannot always believe what you think”. Looking back I think a small part of that statement relates to this. Our mind is wired to believe it knows more than it actually does. It makes evaluations based on a distorted lens. A lens created by current and previous thoughts, emotions and behaviors. When we practice “Beginner’s Mind” we become open to new possibilities. Every experience we encounter, no matter how small contains a unique prospect. No moment is ever the same.
This is one of my favorite reasons to why mindfulness is a superpower. Each moment is an opportunity to discover something new. It changes the way you interact with your spouse, children, and friends. Imagine having the capability to look at a challenge or an old problem with fresh eyes? Or to view the world as if it was something you had never seen before?
There is no greater gift you can give to yourself than trusting your own intuition and believing in your own self-determination. Developing trust in yourself is about honoring your feelings, and taking responsibility for being yourself, despite your mistakes and flaws.
“Comparison is the thief of joy” – Theodore Roosevelt
We spend so much of our time comparing ourselves to others and then feel disappointed when we don’t match up. Or we look up to people who inspire us, our mentors and teachers and end up following them blindly. Trust in mindfulness tells us to be open to what we can learn from others, but ultimately we must follow our own instincts and live our own lives. Once you fully trust yourself you will find it easier to walk your own path and you will find it easier to trust others.
We live in a world where everything we do, we do for a reason. I want something so I will do “X”. I need to relax so I will do “Y”. I must do “Z” to be a better person. This is the opposite goal of meditation and mindfulness. When you introduce an idea into your mind of where you think you should be or what you think you should feel, you automatically imply that you are not okay with your right now. As we have discussed mindfulness is simply paying attention to what is happening right now, where the ultimate goal is to just be yourself.
Stop striving for results. Rather focus your energy on seeing and accepting things as they are in the here and now. Feel what you feel, think what you think, and smell what you smell. Just be! Through mindful meditation practice and in due course you will move toward your goals and achieve them. You get to be just you- in all your glory!
Basically, acceptance means accepting life on life’s terms. Seeing things as they really are. There is no avoidance or resistance. You are not imposing your ideas about what you think you should be feeling and thinking, instead you become open-hearted and curious to whatever you are feeling right now. Acceptance teaches you to sieve out your judgments and preconceived ideas giving you more clarity on the present moment. It opens you up to look at life more honestly.
It is not a passive process, it does not mean you have resigned yourself to a life of unhappiness. It also does not necessarily mean you agree with people or dismiss a situation that negatively impacted you. You can still do something about it, but instead of turning away from situations you turn inward.
The last reason why mindfulness is a superpower is the act of letting go. When you begin to pay attention to your inner experiences you will soon discover that there are certain thoughts, emotions, and events that your mind will hold onto. The more pleasant the experience the longer you will try and prolong it and keep it. The more unpleasant, the more your mind will try and get rid of it, avoid it or forget it altogether.
Mindfulness and especially mindful meditation intentionally teaches us to stop categorizing these experiences and shows us how to just be with them and observe them as they are right now. Instead of trying to figure out the why, “why do I feel this way?”, you let it be, and let it go. Much like acceptance, you embrace things as they are.
Mindfulness truly embraces what it means to be human. We all have it in us to be the best version of ourselves. By simply adopting the above mindfulness attitudes, your life will change for the better. It will become a life that is a little more meaningful, where you are more in control of how and what you think and feel. Ultimately, resulting in you feeling more empowered. The proof is in the pudding.