Mindfulness is the ability to maintain awareness moment to moment of both our internal and external world. It is about being present in the moment with the capacity to notice any thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, sounds, smells and sights that may be arising. Mindfulness is not about ridding ourselves of any given experience, it is about noticing things, but also with the ability to shift awareness back to something else. So, for example, you may spend some time focussing on your breath, but find that your awareness shifts to the noise outside the window, or the thoughts that have crept into your mind. This is absolutely fine and completely normal; it is developing the capacity to bring your awareness back to the breath (or whatever you are focussing on in the present moment) again, and again and again – that is mindfulness. In these moments, we let go of ruminating on what has happened in the past and worrying about what might happen in the future. Those thoughts may crop up, but we can notice them and let them pass. We are just noticing what is happening here and now.
One of the core components of mindfulness is to notice without any judgement. At any given moment, we may have a thought, an emotion, a physical response – and this is okay. You do not need to criticise or berate yourself for having this experience. It is not your fault and you haven’t done anything wrong.
Mindfulness is a skill that needs to be learnt and practiced. It can be very hard when first starting out, because it feels strange to be still and focus when our brains are often wrestling with us to think, imagine, worry and judge. You feel that you can’t, that you’re unable to or that you’re no good at it, and it is true that some days it is harder than others – but there is no end goal with mindfulness. Being mindful is always work in practice and we are a beginner every single time we practice it. Approaching with a beginner’s mind is what matters.
Mindfulness has been incorporated into many psychological therapies and has a very good evidence base for helping with difficulties such as anxiety, depression and stress. It is a core component in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) for people with a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder as well as Compassion Focussed Therapy (CFT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).