Mindfulness is a key component of many meditative and contemplative practices, and it can also be an illuminating approach to everyday life. To be mindful is to focus our awareness and attention on the experience of the present moment. We can be mindful of our bodily sensations and breath; our thoughts, feelings, speech, and actions; the natural world and our immediate environment; the people around us; and other parts of our lives.
Mindfulness practices encourage us to slow down and notice what we can be directly aware of at any given moment. Many teachers recommend that we begin by sitting in a quiet place and noticing the movement of the breath in and out, focusing on the sensations and sounds that let us know we are breathing. By bringing mindfulness to this one simple and flowing experience, we may be able to temporarily let go of our habitual thinking, daily narratives, and worries.
Along with formal meditation practices, we can be mindful in our everyday lives. Eating a meal, cleaning, walking, driving, and other seemingly mundane tasks are all opportunities for mindfulness. The more we ground ourselves in the present, the more fully we can experience being alive. What’s more, mindfulness practices have been found to reduce stress, boost immune systems, and improve brain functions. In the quotes below, practitioners discuss the essence of mindfulness and its myriad benefits.
Mindfulness is nonconceptual awareness… It [is] the direct and immediate experiencing of whatever is happening, without the medium of thought.
— Henepola Gunaratana, Buddhist monk
Life is a dance. Mindfulness is witnessing that dance.
— Amit Ray, author and spiritual leader
Being aware of your breathing takes attention away from thinking and creates space. It is one way of generating consciousness.
— Eckhart Tolle, spiritual teacher and author
Try these directions for mindfulness of breathing… There is no ‘right’ way for the breath to feel; just be aware of what it is. Each time you notice your mind has wandered to other thoughts, or is caught by background noises, bring your attention back to the easy, natural rhythm of your breathing.
— Ram Dass, spiritual teacher and author
This is really the practice of mindfulness, of changing [our] conditioning so that instead of running away, we relax. Relaxation is an important part of meditation; relaxing and opening into the emotion or whatever the experience is.
— Joseph Goldstein, meditation teacher and author
Mindfulness is loving all the details of our lives, and awareness is the natural thing that happens: life begins to open up, and you realize that you’re always standing at the center of the world.
— Pema Chodron, Buddhist teacher and author
Mindfulness, though so highly praised and capable of such great achievements, is not at all a ‘mystical’ state, beyond the ken and reach of the average person. It is, on the contrary, something quite simple and common, and very familiar to us.
— Nyanaponika Thera, Buddhist monk and author
The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnified world in itself.
— Henry Miller, writer
The real miracle is not to fly or walk on fire. The real miracle is to walk on the Earth, and you can perform that miracle at any time. Just bring your mind home to your body, become alive, and perform the miracle of walking on Earth.
— Thích Nhất Hạnh, Buddhist monk and writer
The capacity to witness what is happening inside us with a nonjudging attention allows us to respond to life from our full intelligence and heart.
— Tara Brach, psychologist and Buddhist teacher
Our mind should be soft and open enough to understand things as they are… It is called mindfulness.
— Shunryu Suzuki, Zen monk and teacher
The art of living… is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging on the other. It consists in being sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive.
— Alan Watts, philosopher and writer
Mindfulness does not reject experience. It lets experience be the teacher.
— Jack Kornfield, Buddhist teacher and author
Mindfulness meditation doesn’t change life. Life remains as fragile and unpredictable as ever. Meditation changes the heart’s capacity to accept life as it is.
— Sylvia Boorstein, psychotherapist and Buddhist teacher
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