Mindfulness: What is it?

Part one of a three part series
By Bill Abbott, MD

I’ve heard much talk lately about Mindfulness with many questions about how useful it might be, so it seems timely to write about it here.

First Mindfulness or Mindful Awareness as I like to call it, is not new, in fact, it is over 2500-years-old. It’s part of the teachings of a man in India named Siddhartha Gautama who is also known as the historical Buddha.

However, in the last century the philosophy and psychology of the Buddhist idea have been transferred here into the West to become a pragmatic secular approach to managing the many stresses of modern life – with outcomes or benefits obtained; reported by thousands of people who learned it and tried it.

Although cognitive psychology has predominated psychotherapy for all sorts of mental challenges in the past two decades, it has become increasingly apparent that Mindful Awareness is a possible different path to mental wellness in a new effective psychology. What can be said at this point is that the approach affords us the chance to self-manage emotions, including those with addiction, now not only in one way, but two. Furthermore, there are numerous scientific studies, evidence if you will, that support the idea that this approach is useful for such things as stress, anxiety, depression, and yes, for addiction.

If this has caught your attention – good. It certainly has mine, and I have found its practice for the past five years significantly transformative in my own recovery. So, you ask, what is it?

Mindful Awareness is easy to describe but more difficult to grasp and practice. However, a simple definition might be:

Mindful Awareness is paying attention to what is happening in the present experience; allowing what is here to be present without judgment. This is acceptance of the here and now.

It is hopefully experienced in a kind way, but also with the realization that most ideas and feelings are transient and temporary – passing through, moment by moment like watching a cloud pass by in the sky.

Mindful Awareness is:

1. A philosophy and psychology that leads to well-being

2. A state of mind

3, A way of life

4. A practice

It has been shown that we humans spend greater than 50% of our wakened lifetime in a mindless state, that is, living on autopilot; reliving the past or anticipating the future. Becoming more mindful allows us to participate in the rationality and reality of the present experience no matter how it is being perceived; that is, being there without being so caught up in it in such a way that it becomes difficult to manage. Thus, Mindful Awareness can be a calming antidote to the emotional burden so many with addiction carry, as complicated and varied as it is. As stated earlier, Mindful Awareness is a self-empowering strategy that is scientifically supported to help those suffering from any form of addiction.

If you are significantly and sufficiently interested, stay tuned for the next blog where we will be considering the question “How do I do this?”

Bill Abbott is a long time SMART volunteer. He can often be found in the Boston area and in our online community.

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