“I can’t stand this topic anymore!” Mindfulness. It’s a word that makes a lot of people cringe or roll their eyes due to the increasing presence of the topic. It’s associated with meditation and a certain lifestyle, and it may be recommended to you for every imaginable problem, big or small, like some sort of panacea. You can spend a lot of money on courses, books, notebooks, and other objects that are supposed to make you a mindful person. Many of which may appear to have a slightly esoteric touch.
This sort of overselling has led to a certain fatigue of the topic, so much so that many people have adopted a rather renunciative attitude against it. Also, with such a vast pool of information, the core elements become unclear and the whole topic may drown in a fuzzy cloud of half-correct information and clichés.
This article tries to explain the main components of mindfulness very soberly, because even though it is not a solution for everything, a mindful attitude can help you “sail through the storms of life”, as Jon Kabat-Zinn (1990) puts it. There are countless positive findings in psychological research about the concept of mindfulness, regarding its association with mental and physical health as well as its effects on the neural level. This field of research still keeps expanding fast.
Now, what are the core components of a mindful attitude? Maybe the most important one is to realize that you are only alive right now. I call it the most important component because it is true for everyone. You don’t need to do yoga or be a particularly spiritual person to be aware of the fact that you live exclusively right now. The past and future exist in your mind, but you with your body are only existent in this very moment. (At least if we consider time to be linear). To just realize this can be quite a relief, especially if you tend to be anxious about possible future scenarios. None of them are real at this moment. Noticing that you live right now and not in possible imaginative situations often makes you realize your own ability to influence your future. You may also find that being aware of the presence fills you with calmness, because your focus is much less scattered but directed at your current actions or surroundings. Thus, you may find yourself to be more attentive but less stressed.
Other components of the mindful attitude are: acceptance of what is and a non-judgemental view on the world. These components may make your life much easier as well, but everyone must decide for themselves if they find this to be a purposeful attitude. I will give a description so you can decide if you find them reasonable. The idea of these components is enabling you to go through life without unnecessary stress and suffering. If you accept the present situation, you can decide calmly what to do and explore with more ease what you can change and what not. Not judging and accepting do not go along with passivity; they go along with less anger, fear and stress, allowing you to focus your mind solely on the situation. Naturally, we still experience fear or anger etc., even if we try to adopt an accepting attitude. We can try to also watch this in an accepting way, treating ourselves with attentive kindness. Being aware of the fact that we are alive in the present moment gives us the space to be aware of what is alive in us in that moment. We do ourselves a favour if we attend to these thoughts and feelings in a non-judgemental and accepting way.
As you can see, you don’t necessarily need to try and cure your burnout or the pain in your back with daily meditation to be a more mindful person. Just realizing now and then that you are alive right now does it. Of course it can be helpful and joyful to attend to the topic more thoroughly and actually try meditation, but I would already be happy if this article makes you realize that you are only now sometimes.
If you are curious about scientific findings about mindfulness (like meditation) in general or as a tool to enhance psychological and physical wellbeing, and maybe want a more professional definition of mindfulness, check out the research by Ellen Langer or Jon Kabat-Zinn (to name just two of the most established scientists in this area) and maybe add “Full Catastrophe Living” by Kabat-Zinn to your reading list.
About the author:
I'm Lucca, a psychology student, passionate about good food and inspiring conversations.
Literature: Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full Catastrophe Living. Delta.