What Is Mindfulness?

What is MindfulnessWhat is mindfulness? This is an important question when embarking on your mindful eating journey, and a good place to start. The practice of mindfulness, especially applied to eating, is a life-long practice. This may sound daunting,  but it’s a path that’s worth every single second of time you’re willing to dedicate to it. So many people are seeking quick-fix solutions to weight-loss if that’s the case for you, then you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. Mindfulness, in it’s more subtle and gradual ways, offers a wealth of benefits. I’m reminded of what my guitar teacher used to say to encourage me to keep practicing: “Slow and stead wins the race”. This has some truth to it. It’s your choice: you can choose to take one slow step at a time in the direction of a healthier you, opening like a beautiful flower, or you can spend your time looking for the “quick-fix”. I know when I used to jump from diet to diet, I would always find myself right back where I started!

To understand mindful eating , its essential to understand mindfulness.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a very simple tool with extremely profound results. The more mindful we become the more enriched and full our lives become. Mindfulness disengages our habitual reactive behaviors and allows for inner wisdom to emerge.

Mindfulness is inherent in everyone. We all have the capacity to be mindful to various degrees, but we can all learn to strengthen our mindfulness muscles with renewed dedication and a commitment to practice.

Mindfulness is about being present, it’s about being aware of what you’re experiencing and noticing what you are feeling, and staying with that feeling, not leaving it (through habitual patterns of distraction) but staying with it – whatever that feeling is.

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, world-renowned mindfulness and meditation teacher, mindfulness is:

 “Paying attention, on purpose, in a particular way.”

This is a very simple statement; let’s look at it more closely. What are we paying attention to? This practice allows us to pay attention to how we live our lives on a moment-by-moment basis. If we spend our whole lives thinking about the future or dwelling on the past then we’re going to miss out on our whole lives, all the little intricacies and tiny miracles that make up our lives.

‘On purpose’ is referring to the intention that we set – setting the intention to pay attention – and how engaged we are in the process. The last part, ‘in a particular way’ is very interesting and is a really important aspect of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s teaching. He’s referring to the attitude that we show up with, fostering a space that we can hold in the present moment that has certain qualities to it. It’s the how of paying attention.

How We Pay Attention – Mindfulness Qualities

How we choose to pay attention and with what attitudes we choose to bring to the mindfulness practice is of prime importance. This is like setting the mood or the tone of our practice. In the same way we know how to create a nice pleasant atmosphere, like lighting candles, or playing soft music, these qualities help us set the atmosphere to surround our mindfulness practice. Consider the difference: we could be mindful in an extremely self-critical way versus being mindful with an attitude of loving-kindness. Surrounding our mindfulness practice with self-criticism won’t be as beneficial to us as bringing an attitude of loving-kindness to the table. We want to work towards developing and fostering the positive qualities that surround our mindfulness practice, qualities that support us in our growth and development on our mindful paths.

The attitudes of mindfulness practice include:

  • Acceptance and non-judgment rather than critical judgment
  • Openness and a willingness to stay with whatever arises
  • Deep Trust in the process as our experience unfolds on a moment-to-moment basis
  • Fearlessness in the face of what arises for us
  • Kindness, compassion and gentleness for ourselves and others
  • Non-striving, just being where you are, with the knowing that you have already arrived
  • Patience and calmness
  • Letting-go to attachment of the outcome
  • A sense of light-heartedness and humor

These are the qualities that we would like to foster in the present moment of our lives. Why? Because these specific qualities loosen our grip on what we perceive to be a fixed reality, causing us suffering, and help us connect to the root of happiness. These qualities take a dedicated effort to cultivate. Most of us have been training ourselves over the course of our lifetime to foster reactive habitual ways of closing down to ourselves and others, living within a fear-based reality. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just what it means to be human. On this path, we simply take one step at a time and gradually we head in this direction of opening to these positive qualities that soften our hearts.

When we set out on this path, we can consider ourselves ‘warriors of fierce kindness’. It takes dedication to keep coming back to the present moments. It may be a simple instruction to follow, but for those of you who’ve meditated for even 5 minutes, you know, that this can be harder than it sounds. So we set out on the path of the warrior, applying attitudes of compassion, gentleness and loving-kindness towards ourselves and others. I love the way that Sasha T, author of Eating with Fierce Kindness describes it:

“I like to use the term fierce kindness, which is the ability to strongly devote ourselves to changing thought patterns, beliefs, and behaviours that are ultimately not in our best interest, and doing so out of self-kindness, not self-judgment or criticism. The “fierceness” is the determination it takes to face your personal challenges. And the “kindness” is the act of learning to enhance sincere feelings of warmth and caring toward yourself as you go along. ” Sasha T. Loring, M.ED., LCSW

When we start to understand that we all have the capacity to be mindful, that this is in fact our natural inherent state and that we’ve just been practicing and strengthening our methods of distraction, then we can take this awareness and apply it to eating more mindfully. Although it make be a slow practice, there are many benefits that we reap from learning to eat mindfully.

Be well, be mindful.

Aloha from the Big Island of Hawaii,

Laura Dawn

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