What is Mindfulness?
Training the Innate Faculties of the Mind
Mindfulness meditation is the practice of being present with one's life instead of being constantly caught in thoughts and emotions related to the past and future. Training in mindfulness is a fundamental basis of health for individuals and organizations. Mindfulness fosters authentic communication and a greater sense of personal and group dignity, discipline, warmth, clarity, and motivation. By strengthening our ability to see the present moment fully as it is, without the habitual overlay of preconceptions and judgments, our responses become more accurate, relevant, and beneficial.
Many studies are now showing that even short amounts of mindfulness practice cause measurable changes in the brain that can be tracked on a brain scanner. For example, controlled studies show that the amygdala, which is the primitive part of the brain responsible for our fear response (commonly known as the fight, flight, or freeze reaction) and anxiety-related emotions, actually shrinks in size—its brain cell volume decreases—after mindfulness practice. Similarly, the gray matter in the parts of the pre-frontal lobe related to functions like planning, problem-solving, and emotional regulation has been found to increase with mindfulness meditation.
But mindfulness meditation isn't just another efficiency tool or relaxation technique—although relaxation and greater productivity can be among its natural side effects. The essence of mindfulness is nonjudgmental attention, a full engagement with what is happening in the present. Another way of saying this is that it's a synchronization of body and mind, having one's body and mind in precisely the same place in any given moment. We usually experience this only when something out of the ordinary catches our attention, or when we exert some particular effort to pay attention. What scientists call our "default mode" is our usual wandering mind, with which we spend a disproportionate amount of time talking to ourselves and ruminating on past and future hopes and fears, so that our mind is not in this present moment in which we are actually alive. When we think this habitual wandering mind is the only alternative, we live our lives largely on automatic, reacting rather than responding. Mindfulness meditation shows us an alternative, a way of freeing ourselves from our own endless cycle of conditioned thoughts, emotions, and actions.