Mindfulness is about directing your attention to the present moment. Paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, without judging that which you are aware of. In other words, it is a form of practice that consists of choosing what to focus on and keeping your focus there.
The aim of Mindfulness is not to change anything but rather to fully be where we already are, with things just as they are right now. To live life as wakeful as possible, moment by moment. Doing body scans is one way of becoming more aware of your body, your feelings and sensations. When you make a habit of observing yourself, curiously and non-judgmentally, you will eventually become more aware of the inner beliefs and behavioral patterns that rule you.
Maintaining your awareness is the hard part. Everyone is mindful for short, and sometimes longer, periods of time. With practice we can learn to bring back our attention to the here and now and become conscious of moving our focus toward inner processes, such as thoughts, emotions, or physical sensations, or outwards to our surroundings.
Mindfulness vs. relaxation
Mindfulness and relaxation are not the same thing. The main difference is that in practicing relaxation, you have a specified goal and wish to succeed in reaching a certain outcome while Mindfulness is more about discovering the present moment, the here and now, in a non-judgmental way.
Cultivating mindfulness means you practice being in the present moment, wakeful and, to the highest degree possible, aware of what is happening both within you and in your surroundings. You shut off the automatic pilot mode and look at reality as it is right now. However, in relaxation/mental training, the automatic pilot mode is used to guide you towards your goals, which have been programmed in your mind while in an altered state of consciousness.
Isn’t it contradictory, one might ask, to mix total awareness, wakefulness and mindfulness with the teachings of a slightly hypnotic state to get ones body and mind on the right track? Well, is it contradictory to use letters in the alphabet to make words and sentences?
Mindfulness, as practiced in the Western world today, is inspired by the American professor in medicine, Jon Kabat-Zinn. He defines mindfulness operationally as ”the awareness that arises by paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”