I recently gave a workshop on meditation where it became evident to me that there is a confusion centred on the word 'mindfulness'.
I had been discussing the possibility of being mindful in every aspect of one's life, when a few of the participants brought up some excellent questions that some of my readers may also have.
"Is the point of doing mindfulness to be mindful all the time?" I was asked. "I thought it was just to do a practice daily for 20 minutes or so. Isn't it?"
My answer to both of these rather complicated questions is an uncomplicated, "Yes!"
Allow me to explain. 'Mindfulness' actually refers to two distinct but related things.
On the one hand, the term is used to mean formal mindfulness practice. Specifically, I'd recommend doing about 20-30 minutes daily. In my workshops I give participants about six different ways to experience stillness and contemplation.
At first, you may only experience a mindful state while you are actually meditating, or for a few short minutes afterwards. However, with practice, the moments of clarity will last longer. This mental state is the second meaning of the term 'mindfulness'.
One of the benefits of practicing mindfulness is that it changes the actual physical architecture of your brain. The grey matter associated with empathy, concentration, focus and problem solving skills increases while areas of the brain associated with the flight or fight response become less active. These positive changes will remain with you, even after the 20-30 minutes of practice. Just as weight lifting develops one's biceps, so too does committing yourself to a daily meditation practice develop your "mindfulness muscle." And just as an athlete's biceps don't deflate the moment she leaves the gym, so too will you be able to keep the changes in your physical body and patterns of thinking that help to create a lasting state of mental mindfulness.
However, the mindful state is not digital, like an on-or-off light switch. It is analogue, like a dimmer. Doing just 20 minutes of practice daily will gradually and gently illuminate your situation moment by moment.
Joseph Pond is a clinical hypnotherapist, an acupuncturist, and a mindfulness instructor. He is co-founder of Hypnosis Explorers NI and sits on the National Board of NLP and Hypnotherapy. Reach him at email@example.com