What is Mindfulness? And Why does it matter?

by Carol Hendershot

Mindfulness means different things to different people. For some, it is a means for reducing stress or calming their anxious minds. For others, it is a way to help with the symptoms of chronic illness. Many people use it as a way to feel more engaged in and curious about life. It is viewed in some circles as a way to increase focus and attention and open up space for creativity. In classrooms, it is used to help kids learn and increase emotional intelligence.

For me, it was a way to work with a lifelong struggle with anxiety and depression. As a teen, I never felt at ease in my body or my mind. By the time I got to college, I was struggling with debilitating bouts of anxiety and depression. All I wanted was to feel better, and I would have done anything to make that happen.

That was in the ‘70s, and there were many different things that promised to get me out of my funk. Being somewhat of a risk-taker and rebel, I tried almost everything available. Unfortunately, nothing “worked,” and a lot of it made it worse. I felt like I was out of options when I saw a poster for a meditation class. I decided to give it a try, and I’ve never looked back.

Meditation calmed my anxious mind and give me hope. It opened up new possibilities and started one of the most incredible journeys of my life. It gave me the courage to see myself in a clear light without shrinking away. It allowed me to befriend myself in a way I had never imagined. In other words, it allowed me to become mindful.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the ability to pay attention to what is happening right now, in the present moment. It quiets the judging mind and helps us let go of resistance. It is an ability to be open to and explore our experience without bias or preconceived agendas.

Mindfulness is instinctive; it’s something we are born with. However, like our natural capacities of language and movement, we must nurture it. It is like a seed that has the potential to calm and focus the mind, foster creativity, enhance learning, and connect us to others.

What Mindfulness is not is Supported by our Culture

We live a world that is always asking us to hurry up; mindfulness asks us to slow down. We are constantly being asked to do more with less; mindfulness asks us to be content with less. Multi-tasking is the norm; mindfulness is defined by single-tasking. Our lives are complex; mindfulness is about simplifying.

You may be thinking right now, “I don’t have time to be mindful.”

I would like to suggest that you don’t have time not to be mindful.

When we are mindful, we tend to get more done with less. With mindfulness, we are able to focus and do the same amount of work in less time. When we are multi-tasking, we’re not doing many things at once; we are switching back and forth. And each time we switch, we lose focus and time. We are more accurate when we are mindful, and we don’t have as many do-overs. We attract others to our cause, because we exude a sense of calm that others want to take part in.

One of the reasons that I was attracted to mindfulness was that no one was asking me to believe anything. The invitation is to come, try it, and see for yourself.