I’m going to be talking about an eight-week course I’m taking on mindfulness meditation, but before I start with my experience, I have to define a few terms so we’re all on the same page. I’m going to define mindfulness and mindfulness meditation so we all know what we’re talking about.
What is Mindfulness?
Well, that depends on who you ask. A very simple definition for mindfulness might be, “being right here, right now, and nowhere else.” Mindfulness has also been defined as “purposefully paying attention, in the present moment and without judgement.”
According to Sheri Van Dijk, MSW, author of The Dialectical and Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook, mindfulness skills, “. . . help people to live more in the present moment, rather than getting stuck in the thoughts about the past or future, which can trigger painful emotions. These . . . help you get to know yourself better, because you’re focusing on the present moment, you’re more aware of your emotions, thoughts, and feelings.”
Multi-tasking is the antithesis of mindfulness. (Personally, I still don’t think multitasking is always bad and I don’t think mindfulness is right for all occasions. But that’s my personality and a function of my job.)
While mindfulness is a form of meditation practice, you don’t have to sit cross-legged on a yoga mat chanting in order to do it. Both formal practice and informal practice can take place.
Formal and Informal Mindfulness Practice
For example, Van Dijk lists this simple mindfulness exercise which you could use for formal mindfulness practice:
Pretend you are in a field of grass looking up at the clouds. Whenever a thought enters your mind, imagine that it rests on a cloud floating by. Don’t judge the thought, and don’t label them; simply observe them as they float through your mind. Don’t grab onto them or get caught up thinking about them – just notice them. When you notice your attention straying from the exercise, gently bring it back to observing the thoughts.
Informal mindfulness practice simply means trying to live life more mindfully. So, for example, when you’re engaged in conversation, fully engage in that conversation with the other person and do not focus on anything else. Do not think about what you will say next. Only focus on the other person and the interactions between the two of you.
What is Mindfulness Meditation?
Mindfulness meditation is formal mindfulness practice (like the example above). It incorporates mindfulness, relaxation training and breath work. There are lots of ways of doing mindfulness meditation and I’ll be talking about the exercises I’m learning through my mindfulness meditation course, but they certainly aren’t the only ones.
Do I Have to Clear My Mind and Think of Nothing in Order to Meditate?
The biggest thing I always heard about meditation is that it’s about clearing your mind and not thinking at all. And I always knew if that was the goal I could never do it. I could never, ever make my bipolar brain not think.
Luckily for me, not thinking is not the goal during meditation.
My instructor said something along these lines: Your brain is an organ and its job is to think. You can’t expect that it will ever stop doing that. We all think, all the time.
This was like a whole, new world opening up for me. If it wasn’t about not thinking, I could do it!
And thanks to this one idea, I’m having positive results with my mindfulness meditation (even though I initially bristled at the idea), but more on that later.
Also check out these tips on setting up a mindfulness meditation practice (up shortly).