What is mindfulness meditation? In essence, it is a very simple form of meditation designed to develop the skill of paying attention to our inner and outer experiences with acceptance, patience and kindness to ourselves. It is a practice of being fully and attentively present in the moment.
A typical mindfulness meditation consists of focusing full attention on the breath as it flows in and out of your body. Mark Williams, former Director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre explains that "focusing on each breath in this way allows you to observe your thoughts as they arise in your mind and, little by little, to let go of struggling with them. You come to realise that thoughts come and go of their own accord; that you are not your thoughts. You can watch as they appear in your mind, seemingly from thin air, and watch again as they disappear, like a soap bubble bursting. You come to the profound understanding that thoughts and feelings (including negative ones) are transient. They come and they go, and ultimately, you have a choice about whether to act on them or not."
Jon Kabat-Zinn, creator of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programme, explains that mindfulness is "Living your life as if it really mattered, which means you've got to be here for it, with awareness and with a certain degree of kindness to oneself and an understanding of the deep interconnectedness of all life and all being."
Mindfulness meditation helps us to accept the mind's wanderings and to bring our attention back to the present moment without blame or judgement. It is not complicated, exclusive or long-winded. It can be practiced by anyone and its health benefits can readily be seen from a daily practice of 10-20 minutes.
It does not seek to stop the thoughts we all have on a daily basis, although it may slow the pace at which those thoughts arise. It can also empower us to let those thoughts pass like clouds, rather than latch onto them and let them to spiral out of control, as is often our habit.
In essence, mindfulness meditation can be defined as a quietening of the mind and a training of our attention to become aware of the present moment. When our minds wander into thought, we return gently to our anchor without judgement, time and time again, with kindness to ourselves. In this way, we can start to befriend the mind and become familiar with how our thought processes actually work.