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What is mindfulness beyond a spiritual practice?

Honestly, it’s a bit of both

By Cosmin ChildPublished 8 months ago 5 min read
What is mindfulness beyond a spiritual practice?
Photo by Colton Sturgeon on Unsplash

What is mindfulness?

Hi, if you got here it means you’re interested in what mindfulness is. I assume you were not sent by the doctor or, God forbid, judge but you just followed your curiosity and desire for knowledge. No one voluntarily wastes their time so little precious doing something they don’t like. I think you are interested in this so-called fashion, mindfulness. You are not the only one and I think you deserve to receive a simple and sincere explanation to be able to make an informed choice.

But what is mindfulness?

What is this word that seems to be becoming more and more present in our vocabulary?

Is it science or is it an esoteric practice born in distant Asia? What is mindfulness?

Why do people turn to mindfulness?

There are different interpretations and some preconceptions about mindfulness. Theorists have been interested in finding out the motivations of those who practice mindfulness to understand what mindfulness is, and what makes this technique so popular lately. Questionnaires were applied in different practice groups. It is true, questionnaires that included questions with reasons intuited by researchers, which are relevant in the following categories as the most common (data taken from the course De-Mystifying Mindfulness — Leiden University):

  • 45% of respondents want to discover techniques to help them reduce anxiety and stress in everyday life;
  • 30% of respondents want you to increase their well-being and inner peace;
  • 30% of respondents come on the recommendation of a person they trust;
  • 5% of respondents come in search of a spiritual way to find themselves;

It is very interesting to note that the number of those who resort to mindfulness for spiritual reasons, no matter how we define spirituality, is quite small, which is very interesting if we consider the main prejudices about mindfulness.

Maybe now is the time to stop reading a bit and give yourself a moment of introspection to ask yourself what you think is mindfulness. Why do you want to study mindfulness? Are you in one of the categories listed above or do you have other motivations? I would be happy if you would share your vision with me with a comment below a maximum of 50 words to explain what mindfulness is to you.

How did Mindfulness “appear”?

After you have done the little exercise to clarify your motivation for mindfulness, we can move on to trying to clarify the subject together. The introduction of the term into the mainstream of Western thought is attributed to Jon Kabat-Zinn. The latter integrated and adapted the methods of Eastern meditation to the Western way of life and created his method of reducing stress and pain through mindfulness techniques. Also, the psychotherapists of cognitive orientation have studied and integrated into the therapeutic approach mindfulness meditation techniques, thus observing a series of major benefits resulting from the practice of a significant number of clients.

I started by talking about these approaches because one of the most common prejudices related to mindfulness is the lack of a scientific basis. In an age dominated by logical-rational thinking, mindfulness meditation is seen as an esoteric, supernatural technique and lacks scientific validation. Generally, the general public believes that mindfulness will turn you into either a serene monk, a fearless samurai, or a body devoid of feelings and emotions.

Fortunately, mindfulness does none of the above. You will not levitate, you will not mortify your body with a rigid discipline, nor will you navigate life impassive and inert. The answer to the question “what is mindfulness?” it’s much simpler and sees why:

Mindfulness meditation will only make you more present in your life.

Emotions will stay in place, the pain will visit you from time to time, you will catch a cold, you will laugh, you will cry but all this will not affect you so much because you will learn to control them.

Why is this happening?

I will explain to you, step by step, where all this comes from! Are you here with me? Because the most interesting part is coming right now.

Neuroplasticity and mindfulness

To understand, I have to resort to the term neuroplasticity. In short, neuroplasticity defines the brain’s ability to change and evolve. MRI studies, SPECT scans, and EEGs show that mindfulness techniques influence both the structure of the brain and its functioning.

We’ve talked enough theory, don’t you think? I invite you to do an exercise together that helps you better understand, to feel!

To see how it works, I will ask you to sit comfortably and close your eyes (but after reading the exercise)

Now, imagine a green meadow;

Visualize a person walking in that meadow (it may be someone dear to you);

Watch what happens to the grass under his feet.

Now, view more people walking on the meadow in different directions.

On the most used routes, what do you think will happen? Exact! The grass will dry up and perish in time. Where there was a green meadow, now paths have appeared in different directions…

This is how neuroplasticity works. Through repetition, paths are formed which, in the case of brain activity, translate into thoughts, emotions, and feelings.

Mindfulness techniques help you adjust these paths, form new ones, and reinvent yourself.

In conclusion, what is mindfulness?

Is Mindfulness a Spiritual Science or Technique? Honestly, it’s a bit of both, in the sense that its effect is scientifically proven, but the explanation to the question “why does it work?” is not entirely scientific.

One thing is for sure, by practicing mindfulness you can improve your general well-being, both physically and mentally. All you have to do is learn and then experiment. If you have the curiosity to approach the practice of mindfulness as a scientific experiment, you will be able to observe its benefits, or, why not, you will be able to fight mindfulness from the perspective of the one who knows and has been there.

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