January 06, 2011

Now This Is Happening

Mindfulness—a state of conscious awareness in the present moment—is a centuries-old Buddhist practice and one of the biggest trends in mental health right now. Mindfulness means full attention and presence in the now, on purpose and without judgment. It means being in tune with one’s self, and noticing and embracing the experience of each moment, good or bad. Mindfulness doesn’t necessarily imply formal meditation; it can simply mean a conscious effort to be present and aware during every moment. 
How is mindfulness related to mental health? 

1)   Proponents of mindfulness believe that much of what ails us stems from our habits of acting unconsciously and automatically, and of ignoring the present moment in favour of focusing on the past or the future. Lack of attention to the present leads to a poor understanding of our selves, our actions, and our perceptions, and promotes automatic reactions driven by insecurity or fear. Advocates suggest that practicing mindfulness improves mental health by increasing insight and understanding, and by helping us slow down and respond rather than react.
2)   Mindfulness implies not only observation and awareness of the present, but acceptance, too. I like to sum up the concepts of acceptance and mindfulness with the phrase “Now this is happening,” adopted from a funny scene with Jack Black in the non-mindfulness-related movie Anchorman. “Now this is happening” reminds me that what’s happening is indeed happening--whether or not I like it, approve of it, or am prepared for it--and that refusing to accept it won’t make it stop happening. The acceptance inherent to mindfulness is not an attitude of passivity, but rather a realization that the faster and the greater grace with which you accept that you are, for example, locked out of your house, not getting the job you wanted, or rejected romantically, the sooner you have a strong position from which to start dealing with it.

The mindfulness movement is everywhere right now in clinical and popular psychology. Psychology conferences are replete with symposia such as “Eat, Drink, and Be Mindful: Mindfulness Interventions for Binge Eating,” bookstore self-help sections boast titles like “Mind Your Manners: Teaching Children Respect Through Mindfulness,” and there doesn’t seem to be a single mental health problem that some clinician or researcher, somewhere, isn’t trying to treat through mindfulness.

For mental health professionals who don’t like it, don’t believe in it, or aren’t prepared for it: Now this is happening.


  1. I esp like the example of being locked out of the house, because the rage that situation induces is totally pointless but rilly hard to avoid!

  2. Love the post! Now here are my question/s:

    Are scientists at all squeamish about including non-empirically verifiable concepts as Zen Mindfulness into the cannon - or do they regard such developments as positive?

    I guess what I'm asking is the following:

    Is there a fear that the science of psychology is being watered down into Deepak Chopra's new age porridge (ie. add a pinch of existentialism to some quantum theory, stir in some psychology, mix with Eastern philosophy...)? OR do these trends represent a new synergy of thought between the disciplines?


  3. Love the post! Note to self: look up “Mind Your Manners: Teaching Children Respect Through Mindfulnes".

  4. Paul - Although some may fear the Deepak Chopra-ing of psychology, mindfulness has in fact been empirically validated as a treatment component for depression, anxiety, eating disorders, stress, and chronic pain, among others.