Mindfulness Part 1 – What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is about paying attention to what is going on in our world. Whether it is paying attention to our thoughts, our emotions and feelings, how we behave and react, or our responses to our interactions with others. It’s also about being aware of how this is reflected in our physical body, how we deal with the situations we find ourselves in, in our daily lives. It is essentially the opposite of living on automatic pilot – mindlessly repeating patterns in our lives that don’t serve us well. It’s about getting to know ourselves, because sometimes we are a mystery not just to others but alos to ourselves.

The word Mindfulness is an English translation of the Pali word Sati. Pali was the language of Buddhist psychology 2500 years ago and Mindfulness is the core teaching of that tradition. Sati means – awareness, attention and remembering. Mindfulness is not about relaxation or isn’t practiced to feel relaxed, (although you may find relaxation does become part of your Mindfulness practice at times), neither is it awareness alone.

What is awareness? Awareness is the background radar of consciousness continually monitoring our inner and outer environment. Brown & Ryan (2003) Attention is a process of focusing conscious awareness and allowing us to become more sensitive to our life experience. The easiest way to explain it is that when we drive we are often aware of the road without giving it our full conscious attention. You know this has happened when you suddenly do become aware once more and think to yourself – I can’t remember that part of the journey. Your mind was aware on one level and if you needed to you could take action to avoid an obstacle, but you weren’t giving the road your full attention.

Mindfulness is the opposite of being on autopilot, the opposite of daydreaming. It is paying attention to the present moment. In Mindfulness practice we do this on purpose and with intention. So we have an object on which we want to place our attention and then when we realise we are no longer focused we remember to bring our awareness back to whatever it is we choose to put our attention on. Often this focus of attention that we return to will be our breath or body, but it can be anything really. The reason we have an anchor to return to when the mind wanders is to “train” our minds to stay present. There are formal practices of Mindfulness where you do “set” practices or informal practices of Mindfulness were you bring your full awareness and attention to everyday tasks that you usually do on automatic pilot.

When we practice Mindfulness, the idea is not to judge what we are experiencing. We judge all the time, ourselves, others, our experiences. In Mindfulness what we want to try to do is that once we realise we are judging the experience as good or bad, or if we are doing it right or wrong or even saying “I can’t do this”,  we just be curious and have a sense of wonder about why we are coming to that judgment about our experience.

In the practice of Mindfulness we also practice Acceptance. Acceptance is an extension of non-judgement. It adds a measure of kindness or friendliness. Acceptance is facing up to where we are, a willingness to let things be just as they are in the moment we become aware of them – accepting pleasurable and painful experiences just as they arise. Acceptance means we are no longer rehashing the past and rehearsing possible futures, but facing up to where we are at this time in our lives, with whatever it is we are experiencing.

Acceptance does not mean liking where you are, it just means no longer being in denial. We can’t change the past and don’t know what the future will hold, we only have influence on what we can do in the present. We can become aware of and accept where we are and make choices then to bring changes into our lives. It also frees up our energies to deal with what we have to cope with in life, rather than wasting energy on wishing life were different or worrying about what might happen. “Change is the brother of acceptance, but it is the younger brother”. (Christensen & Jacobson, 2000)

It’s easy to write about Mindfulness and give an outline of what it might be, but Mindfulness needs to be experienced for you to get the full flavour of what it is. So where can you learn Mindfulness in Northern Ireland? I  run introductory workshops to enable people to have the opportunity to experience what Mindfulness is, and I will post about them on this site. If after you have been introduced to Mindfulness and would like to learn more I run longer programmes to help you begin to weave Mindfulness into your life. I run the courses not just in Belfast but also over the rest of the province. Mindfulness in Northern Ireland, is becoming more and more recognised and it would be my wish to be able to help as many people as possible have the experience of this very gentle way of bringing peace into their lives. People often ask me “Will Mindfulness change me? The more we know of ourselves, the more accepting of ourselves we are, the more compassion we show ourselves, the better we like ourselves. This means that we have a better relationship with ourselves and if we like ourselves better and have that better relationship with ourselves, then we can afford to be more compassionate to others and have a better relationship with the other people in our lives. This would be my wish for you. As as you find you are changing self, you will find yoursel changing.

This article has looked at “What is Mindfulness” I will be writing further posts on the history of Mindfulness, the benefits of Mindfulness, how to practice Mindfulness, and how to bring mindfulness into your daily life. So check back for those.

Creating New Habits and Behaviours

River bed imagesI’ve taken a break from posting here over the holiday. It’s funny how easy it can be for us to get out of a routine and how it can take time to get back to that routine again. I was thinking of this in terms of habit this week. Lots of people take stock at this time of year and begin to make resolutions about how they might fulfill their goals or engage in more helpful and healthy patterns of behaviour. What can happen is that we may find it is easier said than done.

These two metaphors may help us to understand this better. Building new habits can be like the channel made by a trickle of water or a newly created stream. The channel starts of very shallow and narrow, and the water has a difficult job to find a way through. The more the water follows the same path, the deeper and wider the channel becomes and it can move from being a small stream to a stream or a river. Another way of looking at it is thinking of a field, where someone begins to walk across it to create a shortcut. Initially the shortcut can’t be seen as the grass or plants spring back over the walkway that has been made. The more the shortcut is used however the more defined the pathway becomes and the less the grass or plants spring back. The shortcut continues to become more and more defined until it is a clear pathway.

This can help us see how we must repeat new patterns of behaviour until they become deeper and wider like the water channel or more frequently trodden like the shortcut in the field. Perhaps by knowing that eventually the waterway or the shortcut can become permanent  then so too might our efforts at creating new behaviours in our lives. It might help to remember too, that if the water stops running or the pathway stops being used then they may go back to being the way they have always been.

The connections in our brains work this way too and the more we reapeat a behaviour or attitude the more frequent the connections are made and the more likely it will be we can achieve our goals.


Drumming: A Metaphor for Change

Africian Drums

I was at an event today recognising the achievements of women who belong to a women’s group. Africian drumming was part of the day. It was great to see the smiles it put on the faces of people who attended the event and especially the enjoyment the drumming group clearly showed in what they were doing. Once the drummers had finished, the lead drummer gave those of us in the audience a hollow tube that you hit against your hand to make a sound much like a drumbeat. The tubes are different colours and different sizes. He asked us to begin by getting all those with red tubes to hit the tube once, then yellow twice, green  three times, purple four, and orange five so all the drums were being beaten to a harmonious rhythm, where you could begin to distinguish beats within beats. There was a beauty to those simple sounds and a beauty in how the group worked together.

When that part of the drumming was finished he asked us to  beat the tubes together as a group and finally we got to “freestyle” and beat to our own rhythm. I saw the drumming as a metaphor for what this group of women achieve. When they join , there are smaller groups within the group playing to their own beat, just like the different coloured tubes. Then sometimes like today they come together to recognise the work that goes on and  their courage and strength in getting through the sometimes major issues in their lives. Just like when we hit the tubes in harmony. Eventually through working in the smaller group activities and trainings, they are given  tools to build confidence, self respect and self esteem and they become empowered and begin to make their own drumbeat, all the while knowing that they can still at anytime enter into the separate drumbeats of their small groups or as the single harmonious drumbeat of the whole group.

It has been a privilege to work with these women and be part of their lives for the period of time I am with them. I also feel very honoured when they tell me that my work with them has made a difference.





How many selves do we have –  at least three! There is the Real Self, Self Concept and ldeal Self. The Real Self has the capacity to fulfill our potential but as we are growing up conditions are put on us and our behaviour by our caregivers, churches, schools, peers and ourselves. Because we, (uniquely in the mammal world)  depend for a long time on our caregivers, we need them to give us safety and security, in fact they are essential to our survival. If they are essential to our survival then we seek approval from them. Since we seek this approval, we become conditioned to behave in certain ways that may go against our true nature and we develop a Self Concept to go along with that new set of behaviours.

Our Self Concept is how we see ourselves. Our self perception. It is coloured by our interactions with other people. We internalise informaion about ourselves from people we interact with and from our own ideas aboit what those interactions mean. This moves us away from our Real Self and can cause us to think and behave in ways that are not helpful to our mental health. It can also lead us to become isolated from others, because when the gap between our Real Self and our perception of who we are is too great we may begin to wear masks that can cover up the Real Self and lead to us not really knowing ourselves at all.

Then we have another self – the Ideal Self and the Ideal self is not our Real Self, nor is it our Self Concept,  but instead it is who we think we should be. If the Real Self,  Self Concept and Ideal Self are not too far apart we will be mentally well, but if we have a Self Concept that is not a true reflection of who we are and an Ideal Self that is unrealistic and perhaps totally unachievable then we cannot be at peace with ourselves.

For example if our Real Self is a quiet person who doesn’t like parties, but our idea of ourself, our Self Concept is I am a person who does like parties we may not understand why we are unhappy at parties. If our Ideal Self,  is a person who not only likes parties but should be able to be the life and soul of the party then we will be constantly disappointed in our inability to be that life and soul of the party.

Not only do we move away from our real selves by sometimes having an idea of who we are and how the world sees that is inaccurate, but we may also had this “ideal” person in our heads of who we “should” be. Person Centred Counselling seeks to begin to  align the selves back to where we begin to get in touch with our real self. This is achieved by qualities and attributes of the Counsellor being modelled in the Counselling Space which gives the client permission to take these qualities and attributes on board for themselves.

Real Self – Who I truly am

Self Concept – Who I think I am

Ideal Self – Who I think I should be.

When we are most in touch with our real selves is when we are at our most content and the qualities a Counsellor models, qualities of Empathy, (Deep Understanding),  Unconditional Positive Regard (non-Judgement) and Congruence (a sense of being genuine, open and honest) can become part of the way we live our lives and if we have empathy for ourselves, are less judgemental towards ourselves and live life more honestly. By losing some of the masks we wear we will be more healthy in mind, body and spirit and often bad habits and destructive behaviours fall away.


Paul Foreman - mindmapinspiration.com

Paul Foreman – mindmapinspiration.com

We live with impermanence, we life with a life continuously in flux and yet we can be very resistant to change. Even people whose lives are filled with pain may resist change. It’s often a case of “without this that I know so well – who will I be?” The fear can be of the unknown and Dr Susan Jeffers author of “Feel the Fear and do it anyway”, would say that behind our fears may be  the fear of not being able to cope with change. If we are mindful of that and acknowledging of that, then we can begin to perhaps look back at other events in our lives where we resisted change and know that we did cope. Our inner resourses that helped us then, remain with us and can help us now. This does not mean that we always like what change brings but we can cope if we don’t allow events to overwhelm us.

We also have the ability to change our inner state by altering our inner experience. Mindfulness can help make us aware of our inner state and NLP can help us change elements of that state so we can be more resourceful. We can change our inner images, inner voices and physical sensations and these changes will change our internal experience. Never underestimate your ability to change your perception about events in your life and to come to a new understanding of your reality. Remember we live with change every day and live with the flux and flow of everyday, other changes may seem bigger but remember,  if we change our perception of them we can get through them just as we get through other changes in our lives day by day. The more we resist the impermanence of life the more suffering we cause ourselves.

Getting Lost in the Flow

go with the flowI was struck today about how if we get carried away in the flow of things, then we can very quickly lose sight about what it is that we planned to do. I missed an appointment today – this doesn’t happen to me very often,  but I didn’t miss it because I wasn’t aware of it at the beginning of the day, I missed it because I got caught up in the flow of something else going on. Did it happen because I was mindful of what I was doing in the present moment or because I wasn’t mindful of what I had to do later and if that is so, how can I prevent it from happening again?  It’s something to reflect upon.

I have a diagram I often use when training of how we can either move around life as though it’s a circle where we run around the circumference from task to task, or a series of two circles. The inner circle is a space for pause so instead of running around without ceasing, we take the time to pause in between tasks and events to gather up the threads and take stock of where and who we are before moving forward to the next task. Perhaps if I had done that today I may have realised that I had left something undone.

Acting As If


Click on the above link for an article that discusses how positive thinking isn’t enough and that acting “as if” can better get us the success we aim for. Positive thinking alone is rarely enough to bring about lasting changes in your life, but a positive attitude where you become aware of and change your emotional state and become aware of and create changes in your behaviour will all contribute to positive changes in our lives. Perhaps it’s different for each of us where that starts but for all of us it is a complex interweaving of Thinking, Feeling  and Behaviour and we can’t bring about changes without an awareness of our habitual ways of interacting with ourselves and the world.

Changing Selves

Changing Selves is a twofold concept. It can refer to how we want to change ourselves or to how when we go through counselling, coaching or personal development we find ourselves changing through gaining new knowledge. So I invite you to discover how to change Your Self or how to find Your Self changing. It’s about transformation of our inner self and inner experiences of our self,  that will bring about the changes we want in our lives.

Changing Selves becomes Selves Changing