Mindfulness: What is it really? – A Guest Blog by Meghan Kirwin

Posted by MarchFifteen & filed under Positive Psychology at Work, Reflection.

Meghan Kirwin – Founder of the Kirwin Group is a remarkable woman, whose life mission is to make the world a better place. A fellow Kili climber, and a truly happy person, Meghan is deeply passionate and continuously studying the science of positive psychology. In this guest blog she focuses on mindfulness. A topic that many of us touched upon in a more-or-less shy or apologetic manner. And a topic that many of us need to embrace full heartedly as the demands of our lives become greater by day.  I hope you enjoy the read. Your comments, as always, are most welcome.

– Edyta

Mindfulness: What is it really?

By: Meghan Kirwin

Mindfulness has been around for centuries, finding its early roots in Buddhist philosophy.  In the last thirty years it has become a focus of the research community. This is evident in the growth of research publication on the topic of mindfulness from twenty-one in 2000 to five hundred and forty-nine publications in 2013.  This growth is exciting but also points to how young the research is in this area.

So what is mindfulness?  This is a question I struggled with myself so I decided, when one of the research topics for my MAPP program was to explore the intimate connections between mindfulness and well-being, that I would engage in the research wholeheartedly.  I dove in head first and read hundreds of research articles. What I learned was amazing. Here are some of the key things that stood out for me.

1) Mindfulness is not meditation

There is still a lot of confusion about the differences between mindfulness and meditation. The differences are clear. Mindfulness is a state of consciousness and mindfulness meditation supports in cultivating mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a state of consciousness that can be developed at an individual level. Mindfulness involves consciously attending to your moment by moment experiences in a curious, open and accepting way.  Research shows that mindfulness varies between individuals and has a trait like property. It can be cultivated by formal and information mindfulness-based intervention. Mindfulness meditation is a  formal intervention you can practice to cultivate mindfulness. It is a very specific type of meditation where we learn to be an observer of our thoughts, emotions, urges and memories.

There are also everyday practices that cultivate mindfulness. The simple act of actively noticing new things is defined as a form of mindfulness practice. When an individual’s attention is in the present moment,  with an attitude of curiosity, openness and acceptance, the individual is practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness practices can be experienced during any activity in daily living such as mindful walking, eating, and working.

2) We can cultivate mindfulness in our day-to-day activities

As I learn more and more about mindfulness I realized some important things. First, I cultivated mindfulness through being a parent. When my kids were very young I remember starting to pay attention to my thoughts and emotions in any given situation. I made the conscious decision I no longer wanted to react emotionally to their outburst. I started practicing mindfulness (I didn’t realize it at the time). I started to observe my emotions and make choices about my response. The more I did this the better I got. I now understand I was cultivating trait mindfulness. I was present in the moment and observing my own internal dialogue. I was responding in ways that aligned with my vision of motherhood.

We can all cultivate mindfulness by being present in any given moment and paying attention to our emotions and thoughts.  When we are feeling triggered by a situations or person it is the hardest time to practice mindfulness, yet best time to be mindful. Try it!

3) Mindfulness does improve our wellbeing

The research in this area is very powerful. Here are just some examples of how it improves our well-being:

  • Mindfulness cultivates deeper connections with others.  When we are mindful in our relationships we are in the moment, non-judgemental and curious to learn more. This fosters a natural connection between people. Think about those in your life that are mindful when they are with you and reflect on the impact of that relationship in your life. Such a gift!
  • Mindfulness reduces rumination, which are repetitive and negative thoughts. When we are mindful we move from a subjective to an objective view on self and others. This reduces self judgement and criticism. It also improves goal attainment and acting in alignment with what we care about most in our life.
  • Mindfulness also allows us to savour the beautiful experiences in our life. When we are present, we draw our attention to the present moment, resulting in attention and awareness of positive emotions that may have otherwise been missed.  We feel love, awe, gratitude and joy on a deeper level.  The state of consciousness experienced during mindfulness can illuminate positive emotions and allow us to experience them in greater depth.

The connections to well-being are still being explored and I am confident we will continue to learn more and more.

There is so much left to uncover about the power of mindfulness in the research. I encourage you to practice it in small ways in your life, such as noticing a few new things each day, and see how it impacts you. That is where the real understanding of the impact of mindfulness will be discovered.

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