The Practice of Mindfulness:
Learning to Focus, Notice, & Allow in a Distracting, Judgmental World

By Michelle Wright, MA, LCMHC   

  As life moves faster and faster, creating more interruptions, leaving less space for face-to-face connections, a growing sense of disquiet or dis-ease is increasing within many of us. Perhaps the pressures of this fast paced world are affecting us directly. Perhaps, others of us are impacted because our loved ones do not have the time or spaciousness in their lives for us.

One antidote offered is often referred to as Mindfulness. It is the practice of paying attention in a very specific way.

First, you pay attention on purpose, you actively choose, you set your mind to it. You choose what you pay attention to, for example you choose to pay attention to your thoughts, or your emotions, or your body. Or, you can choose to pay attention to an activity you are engaging in such as doing the dishes, driving, listening to music, or brushing your teeth.

Second, you pay attention in the present moment or, stated in a different way, you focus on what you are experiencing right now. It is not a focus on what happened 1 hour or 1 day or 1 week ago, but right now. It is not a focus on what might happen in 1 hour or in 1 day or in 1 week, but right now.

And third, you pay attention nonjudgmentally by letting go of any part of yourself or your present experience as good or bad, as a should or should not, as a must or must not. Another way to describe paying attention non-judgmentally is to "allow" - just let it be there, at least for now, at least for this present moment.

One of the biggest challenges for those beginning to practice mindfulness is noticing their mind drifting to think about something else. This happens to everyone, no need to get frustrated or judge yourself. Just notice it is happening and gently refocus back on the original topic of attention.

Mindfulness practices have been shown, via numerous well-respected research studies, to help those struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma symptoms, sleep issues, self-care for diabetes, weight loss, smoking cessation, the effects of cancer treatment, and much more. Medical health professionals from doctors to nurses to physical therapists are using mindfulness practices with their patients. Mental health professionals are sharing mindfulness experiences with their clients. Teachers are employing mindfulness exercises in their classrooms.

If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness, a few resources are listed below. Consider that mindfulness is better learned via experience than via traditional cognitive teaching approaches like reading or lecture. Introductory information is always helpful. To truly understand and receive the benefits of Mindfulness, it must be practiced or experienced. Experiencing it under the guidance of another or in the presence of another can turn a new challenge into a rich, connecting opportunity.

Additional Resources:

  • Books or CDs such as Mindfulness for Beginners by Jon Kabat-Zinn

  • The book 8 Minute Meditation: Quiet Your Mind. Change Your Life by Victor Davich

  • The article "Mindful Parenting" by Carla Naumburg