What Exactly Is Mindfulness? It’s NOT What You Think.

Mindfulness may have become mainstream but it is often misunderstood.

Posted in Psychology Today, Jan 19, 2018

By: Danny Penman Ph.D.

In 2010, when Mark and I were coming up with the title for our book, Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic Worldwe were met with blank incomprehension. Almost everyone would say: ‘Mindfulness? What the hell is that? You can’t call a book mindfulness, nobody knows what it is…Nobody will read it.’

The world has moved on a little since then, mindfulness has become mainstream, and our book has sold over a million copies. But the concept often remains equally misunderstood. Many people feel that they haven’t quite grasped the idea because it seems so deceptively simple (this might be because the concept itself is easy to understand but the actual state of mind is difficult to cultivate for more than a few seconds at a time).

Mindfulness is, quite simply, full conscious awareness. It is paying full conscious attention to whatever thoughts, feelings and emotions are flowing through your mind, body and breath without judging or criticising them in any way. It is being fully aware of whatever is happening in the present moment without being trapped in the past or worrying about the future. It is living in the moment not for the moment.

Mindfulness can also be understood by what it is not. It is not a religion. Nor is it inherently mystical or spiritual. Prominent atheists, such as Sam Harris, are quite happy to meditate because of the clarity of mind it engenders. It is simply a tool for reconnecting with life, for embracing the ebb and flow of the world, and for coming to a greater understanding and acceptance of life’s eternal flux. Although people through the ages have used meditationfor spiritual purposes, the main thrust of my work is to help people gain relief from anxiety, stressdepression, exhaustion and physical pain. It is said that ‘all life is suffering’ but I think that is far too bleak. All life can be suffering, if you allow it to be, but it certainly need not be this way. Life can be broadly happy and meaningful but only if you first get out of your own way and allow it to naturally unfold before your feet.

Another misconception is that mindfulness is in some way ‘opting out’ or detaching yourself from the world. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s actually about connecting and embracing life with all of its chaotic beauty, with all of your faults and failings. Many people also mistakenly believe that the aim of mindfulness is to intentionally clear the mind of thoughts. Rather, it is about understanding how the mind works. To see how it unwittingly ties itself in knots to create anxiety, stress, unhappiness and exhaustion. It teaches you to observe how your thoughts, feelings, and emotions rise and fall like waves on the sea. And in the calm spaces in between, lie moments of piercing insight.

Although meditation is extremely powerful, it is not the only way of becoming more mindful. Every aspect of life can be used to enhance mindfulness. Every one of your senses can become gateways to this delightful state of being. Eating and drinking, and even such simple things as walking through a park and smelling the flowers, can all become mindfulness practices. The work of Dr. Ellen Langer at Harvard University is instructive. She has dedicated her life to finding novel ways of enhancing mindfulness and has rediscovered what many accomplished meditators have said for centuries: the key to mindfulness is to actively engage with life. There’s one little problem though: ‘mindlessness’ is all pervasive. We are all naturally mindless. If we are left with ourselves for more than a few moments, we can easily lapse into mindlessness. And we are generally not aware when we lapse into such a state. So we are unaware that we are unaware. We live on autopilot. Fortunately, there is a simple antidote: pay full conscious attention to whatever you are doing. Paying attention is the key to becoming present, to becoming grounded in the present moment, neither living in the past nor worrying about the future, but simply living life as it was meant to be lived. And when you once again begin paying attention, you kick-start profound changes that ripple across your whole life. You begin to see the world with all of the excitement, freshness, and joy that you did as a child. Anxiety, stress, unhappiness, and exhaustion simply melt away in the face of such awareness.

Although meditation is profoundly important, it is but one way of cultivating mindfulness.

In many ways, the real meditation is your life.

Try these simple practices:

  • The next time you catch sight of your partner or a close friend, notice five new things about them. Pay attention to the way they move, their facial expressions, and the way their voice rises and falls, with its pitch and timbre. Can you sense their aroma? And their hair? Is it the same as you expected? Do they look tired or energized? Are they wearing their normal clothes? Pay attention to what they are wearing and the way the clothes follow or hide their contours. Try not to judge them in any way but instead accept them for who they are. The aim is not to judge but to observe. You find what you find. Do they become newly alive to you?
  • When eating or drinking, pay attention to all of its textures, flavors and aromas. Tease them apart and focus on each one in turn. Then pay attention to the flavor, aroma and texture of the food in its entirety. Tea and coffee contain many different flavors and chocolate has over 300. See if you can sense some of them, and then see how they combine to produce the overall flavor of ‘tea’, ‘coffee’ or ‘chocolate’.
  • The next time you are in a queue (or line) notice how your body reacts. Does it take on a mind of its own? Do your arms and legs want to move of their own accord? Are the impulses surprisingly powerful? Do you feel compelled to walk to the front? Is your mind swirling with annoyance or impatient thoughts? Pay attention to all of the different sensations in your body, the ground beneath your feet, the way your chest rises and falls with each breath. Close your eyes if that helps. After a while, begin to pay attention to the world around you. What can you see? Do the people around you look angry, stressed, unhappy or perhaps serene? Pay attention to their faces and to their body language. After a while, begin to broaden your awareness to encompass the whole scene. What can you see? Pay attention. What can you hear? Chattering, the sound of machinery or a keyboard being tapped? Pay attention to the whole soundscape. What can you smell? What can you feel? Can you gain a sense of the air flowing over your skin or hair? Breathe. Pay attention to whatever surrounds you.

By: Danny Penman Ph.D.

Here is the Source

Your world is your projection

Is This Tension Real or Are You Just Projecting?


Published on October 23, 2015, in Sonima


Everyone’s reality is different, we know. But what does that mean, really? For famous Swiss psychologist Carl Jung this translates to: “Just as we tend to assume that the world is as we see it, we naively suppose that people are as we imagine them to be.” This, in a nutshell, is the very definition of the art of projecting, which Jung goes on to explain: “There is no scientific test that would prove the discrepancy between perception and reality…we go on naively projecting our own psychology into our fellow human beings. In this way everyone creates for himself a series of more or less imaginary relationships based essentially on projection.”

Of course, our relationships with others aren’t completely imaginary, and Jung isn’t suggesting that. However, in our very real interactions with others, we have an unconscious tendency to take our own thoughts and feelings and assign them to those with whom we interact. The kicker? Because we don’t generally recognize we’re doing this as it’s happening, we start to believe our own story about the other person.

“We’re not given a lot of tools to help us learn to acknowledge and accept our own uncomfortable feelings,” says Ryan Dawson, a psychotherapist in Boulder, Colorado, and adjunct professor at Naropa University. “When we don’t have those tools, we’re more likely to project our feelings outward rather than acknowledge them.”

While we often project onto strangers and acquaintances, it can be especially easy to project onto those who are closest to us. Everyone can admit that our loved ones are usually the bearers of the brunt of our bad moods. Dawson says projections we make onto our partners and family members is what contributes to a lot of conflict in relationships.

“We have habitual ways of relating to those who are closest to us,” he says. Take, for example, a family dinner, when you and your siblings are all back at your childhood kitchen table. Because your interactions with your family are so engrained, it’s easy to slip back into old roles that feel familiar—which makes it tougher to pull back and notice that what you’re feeling isn’t actually about your brother or mother; it’s that you’re feeling vulnerable, perhaps, or angry. “When there are familiar or habitual ways of relating, that makes noticing that we’re projecting our own feelings onto others harder,” says Dawson, warning that this sets us up to stay in that pattern of projection.

While projecting our own “stuff” onto others isn’t exactly ideal, it’s important not to beat yourself up for doing it. After all, at the heart of this unconscious tendency is a defense mechanism. It’s simply us trying to protect some part of ourselves, and that’s inherently OK. “It’s just that a lot of times, this defense mechanism doesn’t actually serve us,” Dawson says. So, instead of avoiding projecting, which may be impossible, Dawson recommends you learn to notice and own what you are feeling in the present moment, and have compassion for yourself when the tough emotions comes up.

“We all do this—often. The more we can slow down and notice when we’re hooked into a story about someone else that feels especially charged or emotional, simply look at it as a sign to take a breath and ask yourself, ‘What am I actually needing right now? What am I not willing to feel that’s uncomfortable?’” says Dawson. “When you can acknowledge that you willproject—and work toward developing a practice that helps you slow down and notice when you’re doing it—it gives you a chance to reflect inward instead of projecting outward.”

Here, Dawson outlines a few signs that can help you notice when you’re slipping into a pattern of projection.

1. You feel especially charged.

Do you feel hyper-emotional? Are you having a visceral reaction (i.e., heart racing) to someone or something that others can’t quite understand? One of the signs that you’re projecting something onto someone else is if there’s intensity around your experience, says Dawson. If this is the case, ask yourself if what you’re experiencing is really about the other person—or if your own feelings and thoughts are at play.

2. A situation feels “sticky.”

Most of the time when we have a reaction to someone, we have our experience and then it dissipates quickly. Sometimes we’re even able to recognize that we’ve misjudged someone, and after we acknowledge that (possibly even directly to the person), we’re able to move on. However, if an interaction feels “sticky,” says Dawson—when it lingers long after you walk away—or if you feel rigid or stuck in one idea of how another person is, it can be something to look at. “The difference between projection and common error is that an error can be corrected, without difficulty, by better information—and then dissolve like morning fog in the sunlight,” writes Marie-Luise von Franz in the book Projection and Re-collection in Jungian Psychology: Reflections of the Soul. “In the case of a projection, on the other hand, the subject doing the projecting defends himself, in most cases strenuously, against correction.”

3. You’re putting someone on a pedestal.

While we often think of projection as negative, there’s also positive projection. For example, you might have an interaction with someone and think that person is amazing, marveling at how he or she is able to “have it all” or come across as so intelligent and charismatic. While this kind of positive projection may seem harmless, it can also be tricky, says Dawson. “A lot of times when we’re projecting something positive, it’s because we’re not willing to own our own greatness, or to see something wonderful within ourselves,” he says.

So, How Can We Start to Look Inward?

Breaking down your projections takes attention and self-awareness, which is why it’s important to look at this as a practice, and not something that you can master immediately.

The first step toward understanding when you’re projecting is to ask yourself, What’s my piece to own in this?

“We are all responsible for our own emotions,” says Dawson. So, if you notice yourself blaming something on someone else or projecting your own thoughts or feelings onto another, take a step back: What are you needing right now or not acknowledging? The goal, says Dawson, is to bring the focus back to your experience rather than focusing on others.

To do this, try to remove yourself from the situation when you find yourself projecting. You might take a walk, or simply go to the bathroom. Creating physical space will help you dive inward. Next, do anything that brings you into the present moment. “The quickest way to do that is through your body,” says Dawson. You might shift your attention to something you hear or see, or bring your mind into connection with your breath. “Focusing on your own experience of the present moment will help you get off the train of focusing on other person,” says Dawson.

Finally, ask yourself a few important questions:

What am I needing right now? 

What do I not want to feel right now? 

What feels familiar to me about this situation? 

Once again, your answers to these prompts can help you see what’s really going on for you underneath your knee-jerk reactions.

Overall, Dawson stresses the importance of being kind to yourself as you develop this practice of looking inward and start to work through the thoughts and emotions that come up. “Recognize that this is something we aren’t taught how to do,” he says. If you can begin to get curious about your patterns, bring your focus inward and start to own your own experience, that’s a big win.

Published on October 23, 2015


Beginner’s Mind

Beginner’s Mind

How might life be different if we approached it without assumptions and preconceptions, without knowing anything at all.
As our society has become more complex and fast-paced, we’ve become more dependent on routine. We live by the clock: 7 a.m. at the gym; kids to school at 8 a.m.; work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Meal times and bedtimes are determined by our schedule rather than physical needs and desires. We know the shortest, fastest way to do everything.
Routines and habits like these make us efficient in moving through time and space. The problem is, they force our minds into routines and habits, too. Relying on assumptions and habitual modes of thinking creates mental ruts that limit how we act in – and react to – the world around us. In some ways, it discourages us from thinking at all. We simply see and do and experience things in the way we always have – the way we’ve come to expect.
It’s different for young children. Unencumbered by assumptions and to-do lists, they think and act freely, discovering and inventing their world from moment to moment. Experiencing many things for the first time, they approach even the most mundane events with interest and curiosity. They take in both vast views and tiny details, and every day brings learning and surprises.
Such enthusiasm and freethinking seem lost to most adults. But there is a way to recapture the open qualities of a child’s mind. It is called “beginner’s mind.” This concept from Zen Buddhism, called shoshin, invites us to experience life in a way that is unburdened by the past and by previous knowledge. One Zen master called beginner’s mind “a mind that is empty and ready for new things.”
A beginner’s mind feels open and aware. When we cultivate it, we free ourselves from expectation, but we experience greater anticipation. Because we are alert and constantly taking in new information and experiences, we are renewed moment by moment. An open mind can relieve you from stress, preconception, and prejudice and enrich every aspect of your life.
“The wise person,” said Mencius, in the fourth century b.c., “is one who doesn’t lose the child’s heart and mind.”
It is never too late to recover the qualities of a beginner’s mind, to enjoy the freedom and spontaneity of childhood, to reopen oneself to fresh possibilities.
The key to a beginner’s mind is to simply be aware of how you are experiencing the world. Imagine what it would be like to look at a sunset, to hear a stream or enjoy a work of art without the internal chatter of our brains trying to label our experience and compare it to previous ones.


By Kenneth Kohan (more…)