What is mindfulness meaning?

One of the most common questions we get is, What is the mindfulness meaning? and Whether or not they should “start doing mindfulness.”

Lady doing meditation
Lady doing meditation

Usually, they have gone through any article about how mindfulness can help reduce stress or relieve anxiety or a friend has started meditating and says it will change their life.

But they’re a little uneasy about it. Often because any type of meditation sounds just a little too new-age or “out there.”

And while everyone is curious to know mindfulness meaning. No one is to be able to give an answer to the simple question of, yeah, but what is mindfulness meaning?

Still, they’ve desired the idea that this mindfulness thing could somehow become a valuable “coping skill”. Or the thing that finally helps them turn a corner in whatever particular self-improvement project they’re working on.

What is mindfulness meaning (and what it is not)?

There are as many definitions for mindfulness as there are people claiming that it will change your life.

While I don’t consider myself a proficient, I have studied quite a bit about it and do my own practice daily. Consequently, I’ve come up with a pretty good working definition:

Mindfulness meaning is the mental habit of paying attention without any thought in mind.

That sounds cryptic. Let’s unpack it a little.

Mindfulness is a mental habit

The first thing to recognize about mindfulness meaning is that it is a mental habit. This means it has got to do with what’s inside your head, not what you do physically or your environment.

  • You can be just as mindful in your car on your way home from work. As you can sit cross-legged on a peaceful mountain top in Tibet.
  • You can be mindful when things are loud and chaotic or quiet and serene.
  • You can be mindful when you’re doing deep breathing in a yoga studio or when you’re out of breath on the treadmill.

Mindfulness is the simplest idea as a habit. Something you will do deliberately but with enough practice could also become relatively automatic, at least in some situations.

Think of driving a car:

When you first learned how to do it, it took a lot of focus and deliberate practice. And while at times you still need to be very deliberate with your driving, you can also drive to and from the grocery store and carry on a conversation without much attempt because the function of driving has become a habit.

Mindfulness meaning is paying attention without thinking

Suppose your power walks out in the evening as you’re watching TV. You feel that you may need to flip the breakers, which are outside on the back of the house, so you grab a flashlight and head outside.

In order to success, get the power back on you need to do two relatively distinct things:

  • You have to turn on your flashlight onto the breaker box so you can notice it.
  • You need to open the breaker box, spot which breaker got tripped, and then flip it.

Put more generally, you have to see before you can do.

This difference between seeing and doing is parallel to the difference between paying attention and thinking.

Attention is what we select to notice on or see with our mind. The image that many cognitive scientists use for attention is a spotlight. It’s what selects and maintains the small piece of experience that our minds can potentially take in.

Thinking, on the other hand, is mental work. It’s opening the breaker box, reading the labels, and flipping the right breaker. It includes things like comparing, analyzing, evaluating, predicting, imagining, judging, problem-solving, etc. All these different kinds of thinking are a kind of mental work that allow us to do and produce things with our minds.

All squares are called rectangles but not all rectangles are called squares.

The main point to remember is while all thinking requires attention, attention doesn’t require thinking.

You can walk around outside at night with your flashlight, pointing various objects and areas without doing anything to them—the flashlight simply allows you to see them.

Similarly, we can use our minds to observe and notice to things without mentally doing anything—analyzing, predicting, comparing, etc…

Here’s a practical example: Take out a piece of paper and write down the following:

32 x 28 = ?

Now, set a timer on your phone or note the time on a clock and just look at what your wrote down for 60 seconds. Don’t do multiplication and find the answer, just look at the numbers and symbols.

That’s mindfulness meaning. It’s paying attention without thinking.

Lapsing into thought

Of course, if you are like me, even in that short exercise you probably “lapsed” into some thinking.

Maybe you thought, This is dumb or Has it been a minute yet? Or might be your phone rang and you looked over, saw that it was your relative calling, and decided to let it go to without answer.

In any case, it’s surprisingly hard to just pay attention without thinking of anything.

Because we spend so much of our time thinking in one form or another, our mindsgo crazy a little when we decide to just pay attention. Like a angry toddler, it starts yelling at us with all kinds of shiny, exciting, or even scary thoughts.

And it’s really very difficult not to shift back into thinking mode when this happens.

What’s wrong with thinking mode?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with thinking and zip inherently right with listening. Both can be right or wrong in different situations.

Think of the gears in a car.

It would be silly to say that 5th gear is inherently better than or more right than 2nd gear. If you’re cruising down a lonely highway at 50 kph on a beautiful summer day, 5th gear is great!

But if you’re driving from the grocery store to the post office through a school zone on a Tuesday afternoon during a snowstorm, 5th gear is probably not such a great idea—2nd or 1st might be better.

Just like no gear in a car is inherently better or worse than any other, the two primary gears of the mind—paying attention and thinking—are not better or worse than each other.

Instead, one could also be more or less helpful than the other counting on the things.

How is attention without thinking helpful?

To stick with the car analogy, while it’s fun to go fast, driving in 5th gear at high speeds burns through gas faster and makes it harder to react safely if something unexpected happens.

On the other hand, driving at slower speeds doesn’t take as much fuel and makes it easier to adapt to new circumstances on the road—although, admittedly, it’s often less fun.

In other words, while thinking is powerful, and even fun mental gear, it has its costs in terms of energy depletion and adaptabilty.

The first one is quite clear if we spend all of our time in mental high gear, it gets exhausting. When we’re constantly planning, analyzing, comparing, weighing costs and benefits, and on guard for potential problems, and the like. We can become chronically stressed or anxious.

How would you feel if you were driving through a small residential neighborhood but could only drive at 50 kmph in 5th gear? It’d be pretty terrifying and exhausting!

And by keeping ourselves regualarly in thinking mode wholeday, we are often keeping ourselves more stressed and anxious than we need to be.

The second reason observation without thinking is useful is that not able to emerge of thinking mode also makes us less flexible and adaptable.

While 95% of the time our mental ability to problem-solve is a good thing, what if you’re trying to problem-solve something that can’t be solved?

This is the situation we find ourselves in when we’re chronically anxious.

Even we all see intellectually that there’s nothing really dangerous present or that there’s nothing we can do about something that’s worrisome, we continue to act mentally as if there is. We worry, obsess, ruminate, and keep thinking.

In other words, worry—and the anxiety that it produces—is a direct result of not being able to downshift out of thinking mode and into just paying attention mode.

When we’re fixated on flipping the breaker even though we’ve done it 10 times and nothing’s improved, we can’t get ourselves unstuck. We can not let it go or change our attention to something more productive.

In short, progressing the habit of paying attention without thinking helps us to lessen overall stress and be more mentally flexible.

Mindfulness vs Mindfulness Meditation

Just like it would be nice. If anyone could sit down at a piano and start playing Beethoven, it would be nice if—having understood the importance of mindfulness—we could just be more mindful throughout our lives.
But in fact, neither mindfulness nor playing the piano work that way.

Both take practice. And a bit like becoming an accomplished and fluent pianist requires practicing scales and learning to read music, becoming more mindful takes some deliberate practice also.

Mindfulness Meditation is just a formal practice for learning the way to concentrate without thinking. While it had been originally formulated as an area of varied Eastern religious and spiritual practices, latest sorts of Mindfulness Meditation don’t have any spiritual component. They’re simply attention training exercises.

Arguably the foremost basic Mindfulness Meditation exercise involves listening to your breath. That’s it.

Seriously, you only sit down (or get up, it doesn’t matter) and concentrate on how it feels to breathe without thinking about anything.

And once you do inevitably get distracted and pulled into thinking mode. You calmly re-direct your attention back to how it feels to breathe. Many of us set a timer for 10 or 20 minutes or another interval, but you don’t need to.

That’s really it. As a lot of physical exercises. Most of the people constitute the trap of creating things more complicated than they have to be—fancy shoes, the proper gym, kettlebells vs dumbbells, etc.

When it involves Mindfulness Meditation. You don’t get to attend a fancy class or buy a mat to take a seat on and weird incense to burn. You only practice listening without thinking.

Like exercise, the thought is simple but putting it into practice is harder. this is often why many of us wish to join classes, hire a teacher or instructor to start and stay motivated.

Will mindfulness change my life?

Absolutely. If you practiced Mindfulness Meditation a day and committed yourself to measure more mindfully throughout your days. I even have little doubt that it might be profoundly transformative.

You’d probably be more relaxed, thoughtful, emotionally balanced, and compassionate. You’d worry less, feel less stressed, be more resilient to depression, and doubtless lower your vital sign a couple of ticks. You would possibly even improve your system .

But here’s the thing:

There are many things. That might change our lives for superior that we all know about and aren’t great about putting into practice.

Who among us wouldn’t have a far better life if we consistently:

  • Exercised every day
  • Only ate healthy foods in moderation
  • Made enough time for asleep
  • Exercised kindness and compassion in all of our interactions with other people
  • Read a book per week instead of watching movies or web series
  • Communicated assertively
  • Wrote a gratitude journal every morning
  • Volunteered more often to help those in need
  • Saved more instead of purchasing articles, we don’t require

I think the better question is, why is it hard for us to do what we already know we should do. Whether that’s eating healthily, being kind, or practice mindfulness?

Mindfulness is full of benefits and conceptually not that difficult to wrap our head around.

But like most hard things, understanding is the easy part; it’s the practice that gets us.

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