Mindfulness is a mental state, characterized by calm awareness of one's body functions, feelings, content of consciousness, or consciousness itself are occuring within mind. Mindfulness (Pali: Sati; Sanskrit: smṛti स्मृति) plays a central role in the teaching of the Buddha where it is affirmed that "correct" or "right" mindfulness (Pali:sammā-sati; Sanskrit samyak-smṛti) is the critical factor in the path to liberation and subsequent enlightenment. It is the seventh element of the Noble Eightfold Path, the practice of which supports analysis resulting in the development of wisdom (Sanskrit: prajñā). The Satipatthana Sutta is one of the foremost early texts dealing with mindfulness.
Mindfulness techniques are increasingly being employed in Western psychology to help alleviate a variety of conditions.
Examples from contemplative and daily life
Buddhists hold that over 2500 years ago, Buddha provided guidance on establishing mindfulness. Right mindfulness (often termed Right meditation) involves bringing one's awareness to focus on experience within the mind at the present moment (from the past, the future, or some disconnected train of thought). By paying close attention to the present experience, practitioners begin to see both inner and outer aspects of reality as aspects of the mind. Internally, one sees that the mind is continually full of chattering with commentary or judgement. By noticing that the mind is continually making commentary, one has the ability to carefully observe those thoughts, seeing them for what they are without aversion or judgment. Those practicing mindfulness realize that "thoughts are just thoughts." One is free to release a thought ("let it go") when one realizes that the thought may not be concrete reality or absolute truth. Thus, one is free to observe life without getting caught in the commentary. Many "voices" or messages may speak to one within the "vocal" (discursive) mind. It is important to be aware that the messages one hears during "thinking" are simply discursive habit and that the real point of practice is distinguishing different types of experience from the context (mind) within which they occur.
As one more closely observes mental activity, one finds that happiness (for example)is not exclusively a quality brought about by a change in outer circumstances, but rather that realizing happiness often starts with loosening and releasing attachment to thoughts, predispositions, and "scripts"; thereby releasing "automatic" reactions toward what seem to be pleasant and unpleasant situations or feelings.
However, mindfulness does not have to be constrained to a formal meditation session. Mindfulness is an activity that can be done at any time; it does not require sitting, or focusing on the breath, but rather simply realizing what is happening in the present moment is mental content, including simply noticing the mind's usual "commentary". One can be mindful of the sensations in one's feet while walking, of the sound of the wind in the trees, or the feeling of soapy water while doing dishes. One can also be mindful of the mind's commentary: "I wish I didn't have to walk any further, I like the sound of the leaves rustling, I wish washing dishes weren't so boring and the soap weren't drying out my skin", etc. Once we identify experience as mental content, we have the freedom to cease identification with any judgments/perceptions: "washing dishes: boring" may become "The warm water is in unison with the detergent and is currently washing away the plate's grime, the sun is shining through the window and casting an ever greater shadow on the dish's white ceramics." In this example, one may see that washing does not have to be judged "boring"; washing dishes is only a process of coordinating dishes with soap and water. Any activity done mindfully is a form of meditation, and mindfulness is possible practically all the time.
Continuous mindfulness practice
In addition to various forms of meditation based around specific sessions, there are mindfulness training exercises that develop awareness throughout the day using designated environmental cues. The aim is to make mindfulness essentially continuous. Examples of such cues are the hourly chimes of clocks, red lights at traffic junctions and crossing the threshold of doors. The mindfulness itself can take the form of nothing more than taking three successive breaths while remembering they are a conscious experience of body activity within mind. This approach is particularly helpful when it is difficult to establish a regular meditation practice.
Mindfulness in the West
Although mindfulness has its origins in Buddhism, it is also advocated in the West by teachers such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach, Joseph Goldstein, Alan Clements, and Sharon Salzberg, who have jointly been attributed with playing a significant role in bringing the practice to a new audience. Mindfulness is also attracting increasing interest among western clinical psychologists and psychiatrists as a means of dealing with stress, anxiety, and depressive mood states.
Therapeutic applications of mindfulness
Recent research points to a useful therapeutic role for mindfulness in a number of medical and psychiatric conditions, notably chronic pain and stress. Mindfulness is useful in the treatment and prevention of depression and substance abuse. Recent research suggests that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy can be used to prevent suicidal behavior from recurring in cases of severe mental illness.
Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn developed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. MBSR is a form of complementary medicine offered in over 200 U.S. hospitals and is currently the focus of a number of research studies funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Kabat-Zinn also wrote a book about mindfulness called Wherever You Go, There You Are.
Mindfulness Meditation has been clinically shown to be effective for the management of stress, anxiety and panic, chronic pain, depression, obsessive thinking, strong emotional reactivity, and a wide array of medical and mental health related conditions.
The MARC Center at UCLA was created to bring to a mental health research institution the ancient art of mindful awareness. They offer regular classes and seminars as well as conduct research related to Mindfulness and its practical use as a treatment for ADHD and to enhance general well-being.
The Insight Center was founded in West Los Angeles, California to provide evidence-based training to the general public, psychotherapists and nurses in basic and advanced practices of mindfulness meditation and mindfulness psychotherapy. The Center offers consultations and trainings accredited by the American Psychological Association and the California Board of Behavioral Sciences as a Continuing Education Provider.
Mindfulness is a core exercise used in dialectical behavior therapy, a psychosocial treatment Marsha M. Linehan developed for treating people with Borderline personality disorder.
Since the beginnings of Gestalt therapy in the early 1940s mindfulness has been an essential part of the theory and practice of Gestalt therapy: In the frame of Gestalt therapy it appears as "awareness".