What is mindfulness and what does it have to do with psychology?

Mindfulness is straightforward yet surprisingly elusive. It is a learned skill that trains the mind to be more present and pliable, less of a nemesis and more of an ally. Mindfulness is an awareness that arises when you pay attention, on purpose, one moment at a time, without judging what happens in that moment. When you become mindful, you learn to turn off the autopilot that has been stuck on for years, even decades, and instead intentionally choose the direction in which you take your life.

Before you can make change happen, you first have to learn to be present. When you move through life mindfully with a curious, nonjudgmenal mindset, you can examine the ideas you have of who you are and whether your habits and choices are helpful or harmful to you and others. The problem is that we are hardly ever present. In fact, without even realizing it, nearly all of us have untrained our minds from being present. Instead, we spend most of our time replaying past hurts and regrets, wondering what would have been if we acted differently or if the world had treated us more justly. We find ourselves multitasking in the name of efficiency and trying to distract ourselves from our suffering. We worry about, plan for, and try to predict what will happen in the future.

The thing is, the only place where you can create real change in your life is right now, not in the past or future or in the numbness of your distractions. When you are distracted from the present moment, you fail to see all the things you do to amplify your own hurts and frustrations and those of others, the ways you keep trying the same solutions that previously failed, the ways you let happiness drift right past you. You fail to see how tightly you hold on to unpleasant thoughts and feelings when letting them go would free you from your suffering. Learning the skill of mindfulness puts you back in charge of your mind and your life.

Mindfulness empowers you to:

  • see mental patterns more clearly
  • be more aware of what is taking place in your mind, body, and feelings
  • experience distressing thoughts without fighting them or trying to avoid them
  • relate to yourself and others with greater compassion and understanding
  • address your suffering more skillfully and successfully
  • open fully to what you are experiencing, even pain and discomfort

Is mindfulness a religion? Do I need to “believe in” anything to practice mindfulness?  No and no. What we know as mindfulness came to the West from Buddhist psychology, but has no religious elements. It is taught and practiced around the world and across cultures and belief systems. Mindfulness works equally well for the religious and non-religious, and does not require you to adapt any new religious or secular/non-secular beliefs. In fact, mindfulness is bottom-up, not top-down: it comes from your personal experience, not from what someone else tells you is true. It is about having an open mind in the truest sense of the term: being open to whatever arises, whatever you see or feel, whatever truth you may find.

Dr. Goldman holds a certificate from the Institute for Mindfulness and Psychotherapy. He has participated in numerous meditation retreats and has trained under some of the country’s top teachers and scholars in the field of the integration of mindfulness and psychology.

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