What is it?
“The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
Mindfulness is the practicing of noticing what is happening inside our mind and body and around us, in the here and now. This is an engaged, embodied and experiential activity. Whatever arises for us during our practice we aspire to notice it with kindness, compassion, non-judgement and to let it go and come back to the present moment. We can bring Mindful awareness to anything we are doing and by doing so we create the space to pause, observe and respond with skill and compassion. It is a transformational journey towards wellbeing.
By practicing Mindfulness we build healthy relationships with ourselves and by extension with others. Mindfulness allows us to take care of the things that cause us suffering as we learn to let go of our attachments to our thoughts, feelings and perceptions, approaching them with compassion, understanding and kindness, and not as the ultimate truth of our experience.
“We can intentionally shape the direction of plasticity changes in our brain. By focusing on wholesome thoughts, for example, and directing our intentions in those ways, we can potentially influence the plasticity of our brains and shape them in ways that can be beneficial. That leads us to the inevitable conclusion that qualities like warm-heartedness and well-being should be best regarded as skills.” – Dr. Richie Davidson, Mindful, August 5, 2015
There are many empirically supported benefits of mindfulness. A few include reduced rumination, stress reduction, boosts in working memory, increased focus, decreased emotional reactivity, more cognitive flexibility, and increased relationships satisfaction. Many organizations are taking notice of all these benefits and are turning to Mindfulness as an employee wellness strategy.
Why Mindfulness is a Superpower: An Animation – www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6TO2g5hnT4
What is it not?
Mindfulness in not a relaxation exercise, its not a way to avoid difficulty, its not a way to by-pass personality problems, and its not about achieving a different state of mind. Mindfulness is simple but not easy.
The purpose of the practice is not to clear your mind so you can “stop” thinking, or simply to “relax”, although both of these experiences can happen during the course of the practice. It is the nature of our minds to produce thoughts, to transport us to the past and the future. The point of Mindfulness is to be a curious non-judgemental observer of the landscape of our minds, our thoughts, feelings, perceptions and judgements. While we practice we can expect to get distracted, have our minds wander over and over again, and every time we notice that our attention has shifted from the here and now we gently bring it back to the present moment we are practicing Mindfulness…this is why it is called a practice!
What is it?
Compassion and Empathy are often confused as one and the same. Although we need Empathy to access Compassion, ultimately these two qualities are quite different and understanding this difference is crucial to promoting the wellness of helping professionals. Empathy is the vicarious and embodied experience of feeling what someone else is feeling, in helping professions it is usually the pain of another.
Compassion translates the feeling of Empathy into action, it is an empowered state. The ability to reliably call forth Compassion when faced with the suffering of others is a skill that needs to be taught and nurtured; like Mindfulness, accessing Compassion is a practice. In order to be Compassionate towards others we need to start with practicing Self-Compassion and befriending our often loud inner critic.
Historically, Compassion has been associated with fatigue and burnout experienced by professional caregivers. Research is showing that the distress felt when we are exposed to the emotional pain of another is actually due to Empathy Fatigue. Getting stuck in Empathy can lead to emotional exhaustion and distress as the well of Empathy runs dry, while Compassion is boundless.
Why are Mindfulness & Compassion Important?
Burnout and fatigue are normal consequences of the vital work that helping professional engage in. Burnout affects people confronted daily with the suffering of others, especially those in helping professions. This is why self-care is so important for these professionals. Mindfulness and Compassion in particular can be helpful in mitigating the hazards of burnout. Our minds and bodies give us signs of burnout and fatigue if we can recognize them. Mindfulness provides us with the skills to recognize these signs and Compassion allows us to attend to the suffering. When we are able to take care of ourselves we have the capacity and skill to take care of others.