The first time that I was introduced to the idea of mindfulness was about 7-8 years ago when I took a 4-week course in mindfulness. The course was based on the ideas regarding mindfulness proposed by Jon Kabat-Zinn. He is the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and an expert in stress reduction, relaxation and the applications of mindfulness meditation in our daily lives. Kabat-Zinn has published several books (e.g.,Wherever You Go, There You Are , Full Catastrophe Living (Revised Edition): Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness) on the subject of mindfulness and has also given numerous presentations on the benefits of mindfulness; a real expert in mindfulness.
Mindfulness and its Benefits
There are different ways to define mindfulness, but one definition that I have found useful is the one provided by Daniel J. Siegel in his book "The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-being":
Mindfulness in its most general sense is about waking up from a life on automatic, and being sensitive to novelty in our everyday experiences. With mindful awareness the flow of energy and information that is our mind enters our conscious attention and we can both appreciate its contents and come to regulate its flow in a new way. Mindful awareness, as we will see, actually involves more than just simply being aware: It involves being aware of aspects of the mind itself. Instead of being on automatic and mindless, mindfulness helps us awaken, and by reflecting on the mind we are enabled to make choices and thus change becomes possible.
I like this definition because it really emphasizes both the practical side of mindfulness. The practice of mindfulness can help us to lower stress and get to know our true selves. It can also improve academic performance as well as deal with chronic diseases or painful health conditions. Many people have found that mindfulness help them deal with communication with their partners, co-workers, and family members, especially children.
Although the idea of being aware of our thoughts and feelings may seem to be attractive and beneficial, the incorporation of the fundamental principles of mindfulness in our daily lives is actually not that simple. I have learned that mindfulness is not a natural habit or activity for most people; mindfulness is actually a challenge.
My Challenges with Mindfulness
Over the last 6-7 years, I have tried to carry mindfulness in my daily life, but it has not been easy. Of course, there have been moments during which the idea of practicing mindfulness did not even cross my mind. Even though I was completely frustrated and overwhelmed by responsibilities, the last thing that I did was to pay attention to my thoughts and feelings. To be honest, I did not even think to stop and take the time to connect with my breathing.
I am not certain why it is so difficult to practice mindfulness, but I read a post from the HuffPost Healthy Living magazine where is suggested that one of the reasons why mindfulness is so difficult is because:
"mindfulness is extremely difficult is because our minds have a negativity bias. The vast majority of our thoughts are both redundant and negative. This is how our minds are built, primarily as protective devices that attempt to stave off possible future traumas, betrayals, and disappointments."
Although I don't like the idea, I have to admit that, at least in my case, my mind is continually filled with negative thoughts. In other words, I am one of those people who is always awaiting for the inevitable event -- joy or happiness cannot last forever. Having said this and even though I know that most of my negative thoughts don't make sense, I am not completely convinced that they are the main reason why I struggle so much with mindfulness.
My impression is that I struggle with mindfulness because I have trouble focusing on the present (which is the main reason why I should practice mindfulness -- vicious circle!!) - my mind wanders constantly. I am always thinking about what I need to do, or what I didn't do. I am not very proud of this because I know that it affects my interactions with those people who I love and care. So, I don't want to give up on mindfulness.
Like most things in life, I figure that mindfulness is one of those matters where progress doesn't come quickly, and the factor time is essential. Live a consistently mindful life takes both effort and patience. I don't have a problem with effort, I just need to work on my patience, and I just have to continue trying!