Today the idea of mindfulness has come into popular consciousness everywhere. It sells meditation apps, retreats, candles, books and even furniture. However, despite its popularity there is a lot of confusion about what mindfulness actually is.
The term ‘mindfulness’ has been used to translate the name for the first factor in the Seven Factors of Enlightenment in Buddhist tradition. Once mindfulness can be achieved correctly it is one of the eight Buddhist practices needed to escape the cycle of rebirth and reach Nirvana. In Pali the original term is sati, while in Sanskrit it is called smriti. To be mindful is to simply be present in the moment. The act emphasises a consistent awareness of the present moment and all the sensations that come along with it. It is being aware of how you are feeling and noting it without judgement. Mindfulness in everyday practice allows people to avoid becoming overwhelmed with their emotions or being caught in cycles of rumination that can lead to feelings of anxiety or depression. The practice of mindfulness at its most simple version of the concept is an awareness that is carried with someone throughout their day.
One myth surrounding mindfulness is that this awareness can only be achieved through meditation. Mindfulness can be achieved through meditation but also something that can be practiced in any moment throughout the day, through noting thoughts and emotions as they occur and then releasing them as you go about your day. Another myth surrounding the practice is that it is meant to bring happiness and relaxation. While feeling happier or more relaxed can be added benefits of practicing mindfulness. They are not the end goal however, as the practice centres more around accepting how you feel without becoming overwhelmed or reactionary to those negative emotions.
In the western world today, the idea of mindfulness has often been oversimplified as a calming practice used in order to sell products such as mindful colouring books for adults, candles and many different beauty products. It is often seen as a relaxation technique through which many different products will help you be more present and therefore peaceful within a moment. While some of these products may help people relax, the point of mindfulness is to be aware, first and foremost. Relaxation may come from this, however the original purpose of mindfulness is to be a more conscious human being.
Ideally, mindfulness brings an awareness and clarity to its practitioners that allows them to have a better relationship with their own body and mind. This can also in turn eventually be used to build better relationships with those around us, as we bring a sense of clarity into our relationships with others as well.