Mindfulness has been a part counseling practice and the psychotherapeutic lexicon since at least the 1970s and became more widely accepted as a valid component of mental health treatment in the early 90’s with the popularity of the so called third wave behavior therapies, such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Dialectically Behavior Therapy (DBT). John Kabbat-Zinn, in his seminal book Full Catastrophe Living, defins mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally.” In other words, mindfulness is the intentional cultivation of attention, a real-time practice, free from judgment.
Mindfulness may be experienced as a stream in which thoughts, sensations, feelings and behaviors move through conscious awareness in an ongoing flow. Mindfulness practice is commonly associated with relaxation, and while the cultivation of attention through a mindfulness practice can help to regulate the nervous system, resulting in a greater sense of relaxation and ease, a more significant therapeutic outcome is a greater “flexibility in how and where attention is directed” (Hays, Strosahl & Wilson, p. 208).
Mindful writing, in which you simply observe and describe thoughts, feelings, sensations, and behaviors, is one way to connect creatively with the present moment. A daily five-minute practice will also give you feedback over time about your default modes of experiencing. Consider the two samples below, written by two different people at the same time and place. What do you notice about the similarities and differences? Does the writers' attention tend to drift more towards external or internal sensations? Sights or sounds? Thoughts or feelings? Are there places where judgement slips in? Just noticing patterns within mindful writing can reflect to you where and how your attention flows or is hindered by attachments to particular thoughts, feelings or ways of experiencing. Becoming aware of these patterns can empower you to widen your repertoire of experience or to investigate what habits of mind reinforce patterns you'd like to change.
It is midafternoon, a Saturday in November and the sun is partly obscured by clouds. People filter in and out of the wood gates. The stone is uneven under my feet. Maple after maple, orange and yellow and green leaves. Fall. A group of women cluster together on a bench, talking. Father is ill. We've explained so many times; he can't comprehend it, says the sister with ash-colored hair. We must do something about this mess. Raked stones. Empty space. A pathway down. A boy charging up. Hands rubbing together for warmth. A rectangle of sand and seven moss colored stones, each angled towards a tall stone pillar. It’s a Zen garden, she explains. No. No. That is not what this is called, he corrects. His chest rises and falls with a sigh. I hear water somewhere. The sign instructs with an arrow—One Way. I reach out and touch the soft rubbery needles of an Evergreen. A footbridge. A line. Camera flashes. Camera clicks. Koi appear and disappear and reappear. A kid says, the fish scare me. Someone else says, they aurh soooo booootiful. A waterfall. Three tripods. More clicks. I am told not to stand in the grass. The grass is part. of. the. Garden. You are not allowed to be there. My nose is running. The light is fading. I count shades of green. Cool air on my cheeks.
I now look forward at the mass of people standing on a narrow path ahead, the path is a dock of sorts that crosses a large pond. There are no less then eight people planted into the dock, each one is hovering around what looks like an alien upside down tree that grows thinner as it reaches toward the sky. Each upside-down metal shiny tree is topped with the crown jewel - a light capturing apparatus or camera. One tripodder in particular is using a silver metallic tripod; it is sizable and appears to take up the entire walkway on the dock. Ten to fourteen people stand behind him attempting to file by one by one, sometimes getting stuck for a moment. As I walk into the dock a woman shouts “Look at the pretty duck! Its so beautiful.” She says these words two to three more times in a broken English accent. Next to her a man is lying on his belly pointing a camera at the water's edge. A child screams, "Ice cream! Now!" I can't see the child but clearly hear it behind me and to my left. As I make it past the row of tripods and mass of people I step off the beaten path to take it all in, people whirling about, cameras everywhere. A woman in a bright red coat looks directly at me, her face scrunched and twisted and exclaims to me, “Get off the grass." I hesitate as I consider what she might do if I simply say “No”.