Mindfulness is super popular these days. Lots of people seem to be interested in developing it and many have spoken of the transformative part it has played in their lives.
But what is it?
Author Dr Daniel Siegel has a good, clear definition:
“Mindfulness in its most general sense is about waking up from a life on automatic, and being sensitive to novelty in our everyday experiences. With mindful awareness the flow of energy and information that is our mind enters our conscious attention and we can both appreciate its contents and come to regulate its flow in a new way.Daniel J. Siegel
Thich Nhat Hanh brings in more heart:
“Mindfulness shows us what is happening in our bodies, our emotions, our minds, and in the world. Through mindfulness, we avoid harming ourselves and others.”Thich Nhat Hanh
I have always loved the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn. His work is secular and scientific; pleasantly free from rainbows, crystals and religious dogma. He defines mindfulness as:
Awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally,Jon Kabat-Zinn
I always thought of mindfulness in this way, until I found the work of Shinzen Young. His definition of mindfulness breaks down the concept into three clear parts:
Mindfulness is three attentional skills working together:Shinzen Young
Concentration Power, Sensory Clarity, and Equanimity.
This definition helped me a lot. What I like about this definition is the clarity. There are three parts to mindfulness, each connected to the other. Presenting the skills in a pyramid makes a lot of sense too:
He goes on to define the elements in more detail:
You can think of Concentration Power as the ability to focus on what you consider to be relevant at a given time. You can think of Sensory Clarity as the ability to keep track of what you’re actually experiencing in the moment. You can think of Equanimity as the ability to allow sensory experience to come and go without push and pull.Shinzen Young
So these are the building blocks that make up mindfulness for me and this is how I think of it these days. Since discovering Shinzen’s resources (most are freely available on his website www.shinzen.org ) I have been using them to guide my meditation practice.
Understanding the definition of mindfulness is where we start the work. Jon Kabat-Zinn calls it the “hardest work in the world”. Meditation is the tool we use but I’ll save that for another post!