As I have recently started teaching classes on a variety of mindfulness aspects, I realize that I continue to refine my definition of mindfulness. But what is it? I begin to explain it to others, and after ten minutes of discussion I say, “Why don’t we just practice, instead of talk?” Then I lead the group in a body scan. But what is it? I can only tell you of my experience.

The origins of mindfulness come out of Buddhist ideas and practices of awareness and meditation. Through the practice of attentive awareness the individual learns to have a clearer comprehension of their experience and their reality, by slowly clearing the lenses through which they view the world. The goal is to attain a liberating wisdom, which allows the “illusions” of the world to be identified and lifted. As this occurs, life experiences begin to change because of the way they are perceived and interpreted.

Mindfulness became more popular in the realm of psychology in 1979, when Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts, to treat the chronically ill. It soon grew to be used by many people for a variety of reasons.

Over the last century, various forms of mindfulness have evolved in many other psychotherapeutic practices. “Awareness” (though slightly different) has been a keystone of Gestalt therapy since 1940; Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) uses mindfulness as one of the four core skills taught to students and clients; and Hakomi also uses mindfulness as a foundation for increasing awareness through experiential practices. I use mindfulness tools in my practice in all of these ways, and also to teach clients to relax their mind and body to more easily access deeper parts of themselves in hypnotherapy.

And still you might ask, but what is it? My definition of mindfulness is, the practice of quieting the mind, slowing the breath, and focusing your awareness on your internal experience of yourself. The experiences you perceive through interacting with the outside world and your inner world are both equally important. The goal is neither attachment nor detachment to your thoughts or feelings, but to notice. Notice how your mind, body, heart and spirit react. In the noticing and the slowing down, we can choose to respond instead of react, and make a new decision about how we interpret and proceed from that moment.

Many say that mindfulness is about being present in the moment – “be here now.” Choosing to respond to the moment based on what’s happening now, and not based on what happened last week or what may happen tomorrow, can liberate us from pain and suffering. It may sound easier said than done, but that’s why it’s called a practice. We succeed in our practice every time we remember to be aware and notice, what is happening now.

by Nick Venegoni, MA