What is mindfulness? Why it can trigger us and how practice can help
You may well have heard of it, but what exactly is mindfulness? Why can it trigger symptoms of stress when it has the potential to improve our wellbeing? This page explores what practising mindfulness means and how it can benefit you.
What does ‘being mindful’ mean?
Being ‘mindful’ is something we all do. Every human does it. It just means to pay attention.
When something is engrossing, being mindful is pretty easy, for example, if we need to pay careful attention to get something right (icing a birthday cake), or it’s our first time doing a task (cutting someone’s hair). Even if we just love something (playing the piano, drinking in the smell of fresh-ground coffee), mindfulness comes naturally.
How can we practise mindfulness?
Mindfulness practice means choosing to pay attention, in a warm engaged manner, to what is happening right now.
Just to be clear, the description of mindfulness as a wellbeing intervention means:
1) Choice or intention
2) Using the faculty of directed attention
3) Being kind in the process
4) Extending this kindness towards the present moment.
Mindfulness is something that we do, not so much something to read about or understand intellectually. It’s more like getting into water and swimming, and not just reading about swimming. Or picking up knitting needles and starting to knit, rather than studying a pattern.
And rather like swimming and knitting, part of the process of learning involves trial and error. Supposed ‘mistakes’ turn into learning opportunities, and while our first knitted scarf may not be perfect it is still a scarf! And the learning is bound up with the excitement of having generated something, because even if it’s not perfect, it does function!
Mindfulness is something we benefit from in the moment but it also develops and deepens over time.
Why can mindfulness trigger stress symptoms?
If being mindful is so natural or easy, why can it make some of us feel so awful? Why does it trigger stress symptoms?
The answer is because something that is happening right now (present moment) is triggering part of our system into believing we are under threat. And that triggering ‘thing’ may be something you are not even aware of. Being told to feel the breath or a part of your body may remind your subconscious of difficult times in your life.
Certain subconscious old patterns get triggered accidentally by supposedly harmless meditation instructions. But this does not mean that mindfulness always has to be triggering. Mindfulness can help when we learn to practise it in a trauma-informed manner.
If there are aspects of mindfulness you still feel uncertain about, you can have your questions answered in a Zoom Q and A. If you feel ready to start practising, one of the 7-day mindfulness courses may be the place to start.