Column: Being mindful with mindfulness

Is your life a stress mess? Are you bombarded by worry? Are you anxious about what’s happening tomorrow?

Has social media so seeped into your brain — that you are attached to screens? Desktop computer, laptop, iPad, smartphone — uncontrollable urges to check Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and text messages. Constant connectivity can strain the brain. Are you or your kids experiencing media meltdowns? Technology tantrums? Digital difficulties?

These days, it seems like mindfulness is just about everywhere: therapy offices, hospitals, schools. From hospice to housewives, individuals are implementing mindfulness habits into quiet times and chaotic times.

“There is something wonderfully bold and liberating about saying yes to our entire imperfect and messy life,” declares Tara Brach.

The “Mindfulness Movement” took hold in America and myriad branches grew in various directions. Some attribute mindfulness as a concept in Eastern religion — adopted into Western religion. Some view mindfulness through a spiritual lens. Some surmise that the history of mindfulness should not be applied only to Buddhism and Hinduism, as mindfulness also has roots in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

So fundamental right-wingers, don’t send me mad mail proclaiming the mindfulness movement is a tool of the devil. So tree-hugging liberals, don’t send me mad mail proclaiming the mindfulness movement is about living in a state of Nirvana.

What is Mindfulness?

Jon Kabat-Zinn (founder of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School), defined mindfulness as “the awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.” He developed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program.

I like the following definition of mindfulness from a 2014 Forbes article. “The ages-old practice teaches a person to be more focused on the present moment, rather than caught up in thoughts about the past or worries about the future.”

“It is deliberately paying attention, being fully aware of what is happening both inside and outside yourself — – in your body, heart and mind — and outside yourself, in your environment. Mindfulness is awareness without criticism or judgment,” writes Jan Chozen Bays, M.D. in a 2009 article in Psychology Today.

“Put simply, mindfulness is about finding ways to slow down and pay attention to the present moment—which improves performance and reduces stress,” writes Congressman Tim Ryan (Ohio district) in his 2013 book, A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit. Ryan secured a $1 million federal grant to teach mindfulness in schools in his home district.

While one mindfulness branch may include meditation and yoga, another branch is about being aware of the present moment while going about your daily life activities.

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment,” affirmed Buddha.

The religious crowd utilizes mindfulness in their prayer closet and while ministering to others. Jesus focused on each person in front of him—not on a schedule so he could hurry up and help the next hurting individual.

“Treat everyone you meet as if they were you,” asserted Doug Dillon.

Mindfulness is about the awareness of your breathing and your body—and being more intentional to what’s in front of you. Mindfulness is about training the brain/mind to observe and focus on here-and-now experiences. Mindfulness aims to achieve a relaxed awareness of your thoughts, feelings and sensations.

Does Mindfulness Work?

Neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections) proposes there are benefits to exercising the brain. And scientific studies are showing how mindfulness practices can change the brain.

Mindfulness meditation practices are being shown to help with anxiety, depression and chronic pain, however more rigorous research is needed for clinical significance.

Is the mindfulness movement just another frenzied fad or a focused fixture in the daily lives of Americans? Is mindfulness hype, hyperbole, or healthy? Can mindfulness be an adjunct in our healthcare system?

Our lives are made up of the past, the present, and the future. We need all three elements of time. But, I am a believer in mindfulness. Being more attuned to moment-by-moment experiences is eye-opening and makes way for deeper connection to God, ourselves, and others.

Crock-pot cooking is my thing. But mindfulness is not about hugging the crock-pot or chanting over the chicken or bonding with rice. It’s about being more aware and thankful for the preparation of the meal. Mindful eating is about paying attention to the smell, flavor, taste, and texture of each food portion — instead of gobbling and gulping on the go.

The practice of mindfulness, through breathing, focusing on sensations, meditation, or any of the ways you can practice presence, will help you become more centered, more connected, and more contented — even in the midst of chaos.


Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, columnist, and educator. She lives in Southern Ohio. For information, visit