What is mindfulness and what does it have to do with psychology?
Mindfulness is straightforward yet surprisingly elusive. It is an awareness that arises when we pay attention, on purpose, one moment at a time, without judging what happens in those moments. It is learning to turn off the autopilot that has been stuck on for years, even decades, and instead to choose the direction we take our lives, one moment at a time.
The problem is that we are hardly ever present. 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 did something differently or if the world had treated us more justly. At other times, we worry about, plan for, and try to predict what will happen in the future. The thing is, the only place we can create real change in our lives is right now, not in the past or future. Being present is a primary skill: first we have to show up, then we can make change happen. Mindfulness is a learned skill that trains the mind to be more present and pliable, less of a nemesis and more of an ally.
When we are distracted from the present moment, we fail to see all the things we do to amplify our own hurts and frustrations and those of others, the ways we keep trying the same solutions that previously failed, the ways we let happiness drift right past us. We fail to see how tightly we hold on to unpleasant thoughts and feelings when letting them go would free us from our suffering. Learning the skill of mindfulness puts you back in charge of your mind and your life.
Mindfulness empowers us to:
- see mental patterns more clearly
- be more aware of what is taking place in our minds, bodies, and feelings
- experience distressing thoughts without fighting them
- relate to ourselves and others with greater compassion and understanding
- address our suffering more skillfully and successfully
- open fully to what we are experiencing, even pain and discomfort.
Is mindfulness a religion? No. Every idea came from someone or some place. Mindfulness is derived from Buddhist psychology, but has no religious elements. It is taught and practiced around the world in churches, synagogues, and non-religious venues. 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.
Do I need to “believe in” anything to practice mindfulness? No. Mindfulness is bottom-up, not top-down: it comes from your personal experience, not from what someone else tells you is true. In fact, 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.