Mindfulness is the practice of bringing our attention to the present moment. At its simplest, it can be used as a relaxation exercise or a meditation practice. At the other end of the spectrum, it can be a way of life and a gateway to spiritual experiences.
Bringing our attention to the present moment may sound simple, but the human mind has a tendency to want to think about our experience. It likes to commentate, judge, compare… And then we are not really in the experience itself; we are off somewhere else in our minds. With mindfulness, we bring close attention to what is happening in our minds, as well as in our senses (through which we experience the world). Bringing in this noticing presence, time and again, is mindfulness. With practice, it can be a way of being that we slip into easily, every time we remember. The more we do this, the greater the sense of ease, peace and wellbeing in our lives. We realise we only ever have to deal with this moment. We do not need to worry about the past or future as our mind would have us believe.
Numerous books have been written on mindfulness, and vast amounts of research have been published about its benefits. See here for a review of some of the evidence in The Guardian. My favourite teachers are:
JON KABAT-ZINN – Credited with bringing mindfulness to the western medical world. He is at the secular/scientific end of the spectrum. He has written various books and has lots of good talks on YouTube – for a short taster see here.
THICH NHAT HANH – Zen Master / Spiritual Teacher. He is a Buddhist monk but teaches mindfulness as a secular practice. He also has lots of YouTube videos and has written various books, including a good introduction: The Miracle of Mindfulness.
ECKHART TOLLE – Spiritual Teacher. He is at the spiritual end of the spectrum. He does not use the word ‘mindfulness’, but there are more similarities than differences in the teachings. He is my personal favourite. See what he has to say about time in nature here.