AskDefine | Define mindfulness

Dictionary Definition

mindfulness n : the trait of staying aware of (paying close attention to) your responsibilities [syn: heedfulness] [ant: unmindfulness, unmindfulness]

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. awareness
  2. inclination to be mindful or aware
  3. a meditative state of enhanced awareness

Extensive Definition

Mindfulness is awareness of one's thoughts, actions or motivations. Mindfulness (Pali: Sati; Sanskrit:smṛti स्मृति ) plays a central role in the teaching of the Buddha where it is affirmed that 'correct' or 'right' mindfulness (Pali:sammā-sati; Sanskrit samyak-smṛti) is an essential factor in the path to liberation. It is the seventh element of the Noble Eightfold Path, the sadhana of which is held in the tradition to engender 'insight' and 'wisdom' (Sanskrit: prajñā).

Examples from meditation (contemplative practice) and daily life

Buddha provided a guide on establishing mindfulness more than 2500 years ago.
Right mindfulness (often also termed Right meditation) involves bringing one's awareness back (i.e. from the past or the future) into the present moment. By residing more frequently in the present moment, practitioners begin to see both inner and outer aspects of reality. Internally, one sees that the mind is continually chattering with commentary or judgment. By noticing that the mind is continually making commentary, one has the ability to carefully notice those thoughts, seeing them for what they are without aversion or judgement. Those practicing mindfulness realize that "thoughts are just thoughts". One is free to release a thought ("let it go") when one realizes that the thought may not be concrete reality or absolute truth. Thus, one is free to observe life without getting caught in the commentary. Many "voices" or messages may speak to one within the "vocal" (discursive) mind. It is important to be aware that the messages one hears during "thinking" may not be accurate or helpful, but rather may be translations of, or departures from truth.
As one more closely observes inner reality, one finds that happiness is not exclusively a quality brought about by a change in outer circumstances, but rather by realizing happiness often starts with loosening and releasing attachment to thoughts, pre-dispositions, and "scripts"; thereby releasing "automatic" reactions toward pleasant and unpleasant situations or feelings.
However, mindfulness does not have to be constrained to a formal meditation session. Mindfulness is an activity that can be done at any time; it does not require sitting, or even focusing on the breath, but rather is done by bringing the mind to focus on what is happening in the present moment, while simply noticing the mind's usual "commentary". One can be mindful of the sensations in one's feet while walking, of the sound of the wind in the trees, or the feeling of soapy water while doing dishes. One can also be mindful of the mind's commentary: "I wish I didn't have to walk any further, I like the sound of the leaves rustling, I wish washing dishes wasn't so boring and the soap wasn't drying out my skin", etc. Once we have noticed the mind's running commentary, we have the freedom to cease identification with those judgments/perceptions: "washing dishes: boring" may become "The warm water is in unison with the detergent and is currently washing away the plates grime, the sun is shining through the window and casting an ever greater shadow on the dish's white ceramics.". In this example, one may see that washing does not have to be judged "boring"; washing dishes is only a process of coordinating dishes with soap and water. Any activity done mindfully is a form of meditation, and mindfulness is possible practically all the time.

Continuous mindfulness practice

In addition to various forms of meditation based around specific sessions, there are mindfulness training exercises that develop awareness throughout the day using designated environmental cues. The aim is to make mindfulness essentially continuous. Examples of such cues are the hourly chimes of clocks, red lights at traffic junctions and crossing the threshold of doors. The mindfulness itself can take the form of nothing more than focusing on three successive breaths This approach is particularly helpful when it is difficult to establish a regular meditation practice.

Mindfulness in the West

Although mindfulness has its origins in Buddhism, it is also advocated in the West by teachers such as Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzberg, who have jointly been attributed with playing a significant role in bringing the practice to a new audience. Mindfulness is also attracting increasing interest among western clinical psychologists and psychiatrists as a non-pharmacological means of dealing with stress, anxiety, and depressive mood states.

Therapeutic applications of mindfulness

Recent research points to a useful therapeutic role for mindfulness in a number of medical and psychiatric conditions, notably chronic pain () and stress (). Recent research suggests that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy can be used to prevent suicidal behavior from recurring in cases of severe mental illness (Journ. Clin. Psych. 62/2 2006).
Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn developed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. MBSR is a form of complementary medicine offered in over 200 U.S. hospitals and is currently the focus of a number of research studies funded by The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Kabat-Zinn also wrote a book about mindfulness called Wherever You Go, There You Are.
Mindfulness is a core exercise used in dialectical behavior therapy, a psychosocial treatment Marsha M. Linehan developed for treating people with Borderline personality disorder.
Mindfulness is also used in some other newer psychotherapeutic methods, such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy, which is based on the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programs.
Since the beginnings of Gestalt therapy in the early 1940s mindfulness has been an essential part of the theory and practice of Gestalt therapy, although within the frame of Gestalt therapy theory it appears as "awareness".


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mindfulness in Czech: Satipatthána
mindfulness in German: Achtsamkeit
mindfulness in French: Pleine conscience
mindfulness in Dutch: Mindfulness
mindfulness in Japanese: サティ (仏教)
mindfulness in Norwegian: Oppmerksomt nærvær
mindfulness in Thai: สติ
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