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1. WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?

 

 

 

In October 2015 an All Party Parliamentary Group on Mindfulness reported their findings on what mindfulness is, where it might be used and whether it can help. The report was a landmark for those hoping to bring mindfulness to a whole range of situations where the public might benefit - including the worplace, the NHS and in schools (you can see the report here). The report included a wonderfully straightforward definition of Mindfulness.

 

 

 Mindfulness means paying attention to what’s happening in the present moment in the mind, body and external environment, with an attitude of curiosity and kindness. 

 

However, most of us pay most attention to our thoughts and much less to ...the body and external environment...and often not with an attitude of curiosity and kindness. We are mostly 'in our head'. 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                      

 Being in our Head
 

More often than not during the day we are 'in our head'; meaning that we are often thinking about what is coming up, our 'to do' list, or mulling over things that have happened earlier. We may walk along the corridor in a hurry and not notice the display that has just been put up, or we may  quickly have forgotten the coffee we hankered for a moment ago, as we become absorbed in a conversation. At times, we may not notice  that we are tired and feeling a little edgy.  If we could perhaps be more aware of how we feel and what's going around us right now, then we might as it were, 'wake up and smell the coffee'. 

 

Whilst the ability to think and solve problems is obviously a marvelous capacity, at the same time, we may perhaps often struggle to give our minds a rest and just engage with what's happening now. Rather like a smartphone that is hard to put down, the mind wants to be centre stage at all times, sending constant 'urgent' texts about how we are doing, what might go wrong, guessing what others are thinking, and so on.. Psychologists have studied this activity of the mind - and particularly the mind's capacity to bring up thoughts unrelated to what is happening right now. This is called Mind Wandering. We may be driving the car, but we are often thinking about something else and are 'miles away'. A recent study* of mind wandering found that people’s minds wandered frequently, regardless of what they were doing. Mind wandering occurred in virtually half the samples taken; implying that about half the time our mind may be 'elsewhere'.

 

 

 

Mood Congruence                                                                                                        

 

A wandering mind may be no problem at all. However, if we are in a bad mood or feeling low, then the mind will tend to wander to negative thoughts and memories. Psychologists have known for many years that if you are feeling sad, then sad memories and thoughts more readily spring to mind, and if you are happy, then happy thoughts and memories will be more accessible to us. This is called Mood Congruence. When combined with a wandering mind we can see that once we are in a low mood, our thoughts are likely to get stuck in the negative. We fail one test, feel rather downhearted, and then suddenly we can remember all those other tests we've failed, or situations where things didn't seem to work out. We can get stuck.

 

But what can we do about it?

 

Mindfulness - taking a step back                                                                                                  


Mindfulness means being aware of our mind, and our current mood, physical sensations, energy level. Noticing this bigger picture allows us to take a step back. We might just be able to see that we are getting worked up or getting sucked into a familiar pattern of thinking. We might then be able to take a moment out, let the mind be for a while, and perhaps do something more helpful.


So being more aware of our energy level, our mood, what's happening right now around us, can help us manage the ups and down of everyday life. But how do we learn to become more aware in this way? This is where a formal training in Mindfulness can help.

 

For some information on formal mindfulness meditation practice - and to have a go yourself with a short Body Scan (approximately 10 minutes) click here.

For more information on our training programmes for children click here. And for a brief history of the development of Mindfulness Interventions click here.  


 

 

 

 

 

Killingsworth and Gilbert: NOVEMBER 2010 VOL 330 SCIENCE