What is Mindfulness and why is it Important?

Mindfulness is deliberately paying full attention to what is happening around you and within you-in your body, heart, and mind. It is awareness without criticism or judgment. If we can learn to be present with things just as they are, much of our dissatisfaction with life will disappear, and many simple joys will emerge.

The practice of mindfulness helps us wake up and be present, instead of going unconscious and checking out from huge chunks of life. It is a practice, which closes the gap, the invisible shield that seems to exist between others and ourselves. It also helps us to stay present with experiences that aren’t pleasant. If we can stay present and be open, we will no longer run from people and experiences that aren’t comfortable. No longer will they have the power to frighten us and make us flee.

Jan Chozen Bays, in her book How to Train a Wild Elephant, draws a parallel between our mind and a wild elephant. When our mind senses danger, it runs away from the present. It might run to pleasant fantasies, to thoughts of future revenge, or just go numb. If it is frightened, it may attack other people, or it may attack inwardly, in silent and corrosive self- criticism. This untamed mind can cause harm to us and to those around us.

Once our mind is tamed, we can remain calm and stable as we encounter the inevitable difficulties the world brings to us. We no longer chose to run away from problems but see them as an opportunity to test and strengthen our physical and mental stability.

Mindfulness allows us to try an alternative way of being in the world. That alternative is resting our awareness in the actual events of the present moment, the sounds heard by the ear, the sensations felt by the skin, the colors and shapes taken in by the eyes. Mindfulness helps stabilize the heart and mind so they are not so badly tossed around by the unexpected things that arrive in our life. If we practice patiently and long enough, eventually we become interested in everything that happens, curious about what we can learn even from adversity and, eventually, even from our own death.

When we are mindful, we are appreciating each moment of the particular life we have been given. It is a way of expressing our gratitude for a gift that we can never repay. Mindfulness can become a constant prayer of gratitude. We are receptive to what has been given to us, moment by moment, by the Great Presence. They are simple gifts; warmth spreading through our hands as we hold a cup of tea, thousands of tiny caresses as clothing touches our skin, the complex music of raindrops, one more breath. When we are able to give full attention to the living truth of each moment we enter the gate to a life of continuous prayer.

Adapted from How to Train a Wild Elephant, Jan Chozen Bays

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