Mindfulness has grown in popularity with many people using the word in their vocabulary. However, the meaning of mindfulness is different to various people. Although mindfulness has become a buzzword, what exactly is the meaning of mindfulness?
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the father of modern-day mindfulness defined mindfulness as, “The awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally.”
In 1979, Kabat-Zinn, a professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School established the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR). MBSR is taught as an eight-week session to people suffering from chronic pain to help them cope with stress and pain. The program includes meditation and yoga techniques. MBSR produced consistent positive results with patients reporting a 50% reduction in chronic pain. Since then, other mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) designed for the clinically depressed to non-clinical individuals have been created.
There are many definitions of mindfulness including, from the American Psychological Association, “… a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment. In this sense, it is a state and not a trait.”
Merriam-Webster Dictionary states that “mindfulness is maintaining a non-judgemental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” Cambridge Dictionary, on the other hand, explains, “Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of your body, mind, and feelings in the present moment, thought to create a feeling of calm.”
The Root Meaning
As we can see above, most of the definitions regarding mindfulness practice include a moment-to-moment awareness. In Cambridge Dictionary, it even points out that the practice is supposed to create a feeling of calm.
To get to the true meaning of it, we need to go back to its roots.
Over 2,500 years ago, the Buddha introduced mindfulness as part of his teachings to India. MBIs today have removed the religious and cultural aspects of Buddhism. Buddhism, unlike most religions is focused on the training of the mind. The Buddha was concerned with the mind/body problems that lead to mental and physical stress.
Mindfulness practise is about recognizing reality and accepting ‘what is’. Being aware of the present moment helps us focused on the nature of reality with its cause and effect. Mindfulness in its original definition means memory, from the word ‘sati’. Thomas William Rhys Davids, one of the earliest translator of Buddhist texts translated ‘sati’ as, “Memory, recollecting, calling-to-mind, being aware of, certain specific facts… And it included the repeated application of this awareness, to each experience of life, from the ethical point of view.” Rhys Davids’ translation of the meaning of ‘sati’ explained mindfulness as recalling the mind to present moment awareness in an ethical point of view.
How do we use ‘sati’ to train our minds?
Why Recall the Mind to the present moment?
This training of recalling the mind to the present moment helps us become free from past and future thoughts. Our minds are often pulled between the past and future. These thoughts are not necessarily helpful. We may regret the past and fear the future. Mindfulness helps to ground us in the present so that we can recognise whenever we are caught repeated in a loop of unnecessary thoughts. Mindfulness meditation also helps us recognise greed, which is an agitated state of discontentment. For example, when we have acquired something we want, after some time, discontentment arises. Today, this phenomenon is known as the hedonic treadmill describing our desire of wanting more but never feeling satisfied.
A Mind leading to Skillful Behaviour
Being mindful is not just being aware of our moment to moment daily experiences. We create many actions through our speech and bodies. Recalling the mind to the awareness of our body, feelings, perception, and biases give us the knowledge to possible actions we might take. We may feel the impulse to say something, but mindfulness acts as the gatekeeper to help us consider if what we say is beneficial or harmful.
The practice of recalling our minds to the present allows us to put a pause to our bad habits. Habits of reacting the same way over and over again to a situation that causes stress to arise. For example, if we are aware of experiencing the effects smoking have on our body, we would stop the habit without having to be persuaded. Being aware that our harsh speech may stress someone who is not ready to hear what we have to say, we can hold ourselves back and listen to our friends instead.
Mindfulness helps us keep away from actions and speech that have the potential to hurt ourselves and others. As it becomes a habit, we continually learn to be attentive to thoughts that can hurt ourselves, thus reducing stressful thoughts and feelings with continued practise.
By being aware in every moment, and making mindfulness a habit, we can make skillful choices in our lives that benefit ourselves, and others and away from unskilful ones that cause agitation or unease to arise.
To begin a mindfulness practice and further understand the art of remembering ourselves in our daily living, you may want to check out our meditation classes.