What is Mindfulness?

 

Mindfulness is essentially the development of awareness by centering attention in the present moment. The practice is rooted in the centuries-old philosophical and ethical teachings of Buddhism and in the last 50 years or so has become a focal point of increasing academic research across fields such as psychology, neuroscience, medicine, and business. Studies of mindfulness practice in the workplace find that it positively impacts a wide range of human functioning, including cognition, emotion, behavior, attention, and physiology, leading to improved outcomes in performance, interpersonal relationships, and well-being. In recent decades mindfulness has also become more popularized around the globe and adapted for a variety of spiritual, social, and commercial purposes.

Origins
The term “mindfulness” is a translation of the word “sati” in the Pali language that dates back to around 5 B.C. from the Indian subcontinent. It is an ancient practice for the development of awareness and serenity. It is associated with meditation and is deeply rooted in ethical and philosophical teachings of Buddhism. The practice of mindfulness involves sustained attentiveness to the present moment and dispassionate observation of the ever-changing flow of internal and external stimuli. There are many techniques used for the development of mindfulness. Meditation focusing attention on your The term “mindfulness” is a translation of the word “sati” in the Pali language that dates back to around 5 B.C. from the Indian subcontinent. It is an ancient practice for the development of awareness and serenity. It is associated with meditation and is deeply rooted in ethical and philosophical teachings of Buddhism. The practice of mindfulness involves sustained attentiveness to the present moment and dispassionate observation of the ever-changing flow of internal and external stimuli. There are many techniques used for the development of mindfulness. Meditation focusing attention on your breathing is a foundational practice, but even mundane daily tasks such as washing dishes can serve as an effective mindfulness exercise if you are fully present in the moment. Contextualized within the moral precepts and guiding principles from which it originated, mindfulness is an essential tool for people to practice in daily life to cultivate insight, peace, and compassion for the ultimate purpose of freeing oneself from a state of suffering, and helping others to do the same.

Mindfulness as a tool for individual and social wellbeing
Mindfulness in its full application offers a practice grounded in contemplation and compassion to awaken to and free ourselves from the causes of our individual, and collective, suffering. The practice begins with an individual’s sustained and careful inward-facing observation on an object of concentration, and as the mind wanders with thoughts that arise about the past and future, the exercise is to acknowledge the thoughts and nonjudgmentally bring attention back to the present moment and object of focus. Development of this skill quiets and concentrates the mind, gradually producing in the individual practitioner heightened qualities of calmness, focus, open-mindedness, and compassion, to name a few, elaborated in the review of research studies in the following section.

Mindfulness begins with the practice of the individual, but it’s benefits have significant social implications. The fruition of mindfulness creates awareness in the practitioner that recognizes that individual and social wellbeing are of an interdependent nature. With greater cultivation of an individual’s awareness and compassion, there is greater understanding that the suffering of one living being contributes to the suffering of many, and vice versa, as our thoughts and actions have cascading effects in our environment. Similarly, collective health and wellbeing supports individual health and wellbeing. Cultivating mindfulness expands an individual’s self-awareness and increases their capacity to be present and in a balanced state to be of support to and in solidarity with others. This understanding of interdependence is similarly expressed in the famous words of aboriginal Australian activist, Lilla Watson:

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Mindfulness, then, offers a vehicle for better understanding of how the collective wellbeing of all living beings is bound up together. It is an invaluable resource in our work to build awareness and compassion in support of equity, diversity, and inclusion in our individual development as well as in the design of structures in our institutions and larger systems to be built in service to diverse populations.

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