The act of being mindful has seen a resurgence in popularity recently, and for a good reason. Mindfulness is an incredibly underrated technique for self-healing, increasing awareness, and improving one’s quality of life as a whole.
However, mindfulness can be a bit difficult to pin down. There are many different ways to be mindful. Some people are born knowing mindfulness innately, while others need to learn it.
Mindfulness has many benefits, but healing is one of its foremost. Among those benefits is how natural mindfulness healing really is. It can be healing for the user, and it can provide proximal healing to others, too, especially when they learn by example. We’ll teach you everything you need to know about mindfulness healing in the paragraphs below.
What Is Mindfulness?
Stripped down to its barest form, “mindfulness” essentially means to be entirely in the moment, both in mind and body. In our daily lives, we tend to feel weighed down by feelings from the past and worries for the future. Not only does this distract us from things that could use our attention in the present, but if it progresses enough, it can impact our health, too.
When we feel anxious, stressed, or uncomfortable, it’s often because we’re thinking about the future or the past. It’s not nearly as easy to feel stressed when we’re only focusing on the present. The present is full of amazing, beautiful things that we often miss when we’re not focusing on it.
This is one of the main benefits of mindfulness. As you most likely know, the stressors that can be caused by a preoccupation with the past or future can cause all sorts of health problems. Stress, in particular, is well-known to have all kinds of adverse effects on the human mind and body. By helping to avoid stress and negativity, mindfulness can help to prevent many of those problems in the first place.
Many of today’s concepts about mindfulness originated in the 1990s with a man called Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, who studied the effects of mindfulness on chronic pain. Since then, mindfulness has continued to be studied in detail.
Dr. Kabat-Zinn specified some ways in which mindfulness should work. In particular, mindfulness involves the following:
- Paying attention to the present moment
- Avoiding judgmental thoughts
- Actively and voluntarily keeping your mind on what you’re doing and experiencing
- Using all of your senses to experience the outside, and all of your emotions to experience what’s inside
You can think of mindfulness as a state closer to how our ancestors lived. Early humans were much more dependent on their instincts, paying attention to their surroundings, and living in the moment instead of in the future. They did so out of necessity since if you weren’t vigilant, you might end up someone’s lunch. In a way, you could argue that mindfulness brings us back to a “more natural” state in this way.
Remember how you acted when you were a child, for example. The vast majority of children are most concerned with what’s immediately in front of them. If a child is tired, they take a nap. If they see a dessert in front of them, they immediately feel the desire to eat that dessert. They don’t worry about whether that dessert will make them put on weight as they eat it; they simply enjoy the taste.
In the same way, young children rarely experience the same level of stress that adults do. However, children aren’t always as mindful when it comes to other people; they don’t have the same level of interpersonal awareness as most adults.
In this way, mindfulness combines some aspects of a stress-free, childlike mind with the expertise and understanding that an adult gains over time.
Healing Through Mindfulness
As we’ve hinted at, mindfulness can be an incredibly healing activity to cultivate. Mindfulness can be excellent for combatting trauma, anxiety, stress, discomfort, and more. Mindfulness healing is a type of mind-body medicine that isn’t linked to physical disorders often, but it can be beneficial for both mental discomforts and the physical symptoms that stem from them.
Mindfulness is often linked to meditation, though the two activities aren’t necessarily mutually inclusive; both can be just as beneficial on their own. You’ve almost assuredly heard of the practice of meditation before, as its beneficial effects are well-known. Mindfulness is quite similar to meditation, and the practice of meditation can be a great way to foster better mindfulness.
Essentially, you can think of mindfulness as an automatic, but a less-severe meditative state. When we’re in a mindful state of being, our minds are firmly focused on the present, and the end result is often much more peaceful than our normal states. Mindfulness doesn’t go quite as far as meditation, however.
When we think of meditation, we sometimes think of going to a quiet, calming place, listening to calming music or nature sounds, and even potentially burning some incense. Mindfulness, however, isn’t as much a separate activity as it’s a state of mind. You can be mindful while at the same time doing many different things, of which meditating is one.
In this way, mindfulness heals the brain much like meditation does, but it’s more of a mental shift than anything. Instead of setting time aside each day to meditate, you would simply remind yourself to be mindful throughout the day instead. An excellent way to do this might be to leave yourself a sticky note saying to do so on your desk at work or at home.
The brain is an incredibly powerful organ, and it’s very mysterious, too. Even today, researchers don’t understand everything about how the brain works. However, we do know that the human mind tends to worry about things far more than necessary. While worrying about a problem has had its evolutionary advantages over time, today, it only helps so much.
Have you ever heard the phrase “to beat a dead horse?” Well, this is what we tend to do when we’re not in a mindful state. Mulling over a problem is a great way to think of potential solutions, but only to an extent. Eventually, we’ve exhausted all possible solutions, and the worrying does more harm to us than good.
In our daily lives, our minds are always searching for new solutions. If we find ourselves in a position of discomfort, our brains search out a way to get away from that automatically. This is not a bad thing, but as we mentioned above, we tend to take this to extremes.
Sometimes, the best thing to do is to accept our positions of discomfort. Often, by accepting a situation rather than rejecting it, we’ll end up seeing new solutions that wouldn’t have occurred to us before. Another word for this is “coming to terms” with things. It’s the power of acceptance and exploration.
Think about where you are in life right now. Everything might not be perfect, but if you put your mind to it, you can probably name off more good things in your life than you can bad ones. The things bothering you do not define you, and most issues are only temporary anyway.
No matter how stressed you are about a presentation, an interview, a real-life test, a court date, or anything else, don’t forget that these worldly issues are temporary. You might be worried about them now, but once the day has passed, all of that worry will pass, too. Does it really seem logical to spend so much time worrying over something when all that time will have been wasted when it’s over?
This is the concept behind mindfulness healing: no matter where you are in life, it is perfectly acceptable to be there. Every day is a unique and beautiful step along your journey, and no two days will be the same. Regardless of whether you’re in a difficult spot or not, that’s simply one stop on your journey. Change will come eventually, as it always goes.
Healing and Fixing
One quote that you may hear in your journeys through mindfulness is that mindfulness is not a technique (even though, for simplicity’s sake, we refer to it as one throughout this article). Mindfulness is not a technique that’s designed to fix your problems; while it has a vast amount of power over your physical and mental health, it is neither a cure-all nor a guarantee of perfect and long-term health.
Instead, mindfulness is a healing technique. While it might not fix past trauma, it can smooth it over, turning an oozing wound into a smooth scar. As its name suggests, mindfulness works to heal the mind, which is where many of these issues can originate from. It doesn’t fix you or the problems that might plague you, but it can certainly help to heal any wounds that might be attached to those problems.
Healing these wounds is a necessary step on the way to recovery, after all. After all, each past trauma, each wound, and each defect that you might feel you have is another part of you. Rather than seeking to change this, learning to accept it instead, move forward with it, and let go of this perceived need to “fix” yourself.
While the goal of becoming better as a person is an admirable goal (and one that everyone should hold, to an extent), “fixing” yourself is a bit different, and should not be confused with becoming better as a person. Recovery and growth happen over time, and while this doesn’t excuse stagnation, it also doesn’t mean you should scramble to try and solve issues ingrained deep within yourself.
In this way, mindfulness takes on a paradoxical sort of nature of “healing through letting go.” Mindfulness is acceptance of the present moment and your current self, though this should be coupled with the desire for more over time, too. Where you are at this moment is unique and special on its own, regardless of whether it is your end goal or not.
After all, what will you do once you reach your end goal? Life doesn’t just stop once you fulfill your dreams or achieve your final destination; there will be many more things to experience even after you meet your goals. Just as you would savor the moments after that, you should do the same for every single moment before reaching your dreams, too.
Unfortunately, some of the difficulty with mindfulness is that it’s difficult to explain this paradoxical nature of mindfulness healing. It’s even more challenging to teach it. It’s an experience – a feeling – that people must go through themselves to understand and genuinely benefit from it.
If you were to use words to describe it, you might say something like, “perfection through imperfection.” While this is utterly contrary to itself when you put it into words, it’s the exact definition of mindfulness: once you accept that every day holds imperfection, you’ll see that each day is full of its own unique sort of beauty.
What Can Mindfulness Heal?
While mindfulness is excellent for people in general, it’s particularly useful for the improvement of mental health. Mindfulness can benefit something as simple as routine anxiety, workplace stress, or even tricky decision-making.
However, mindfulness can also be used to help mitigate the effects of:
- Inability to relate to others
- And much more
By working to reduce and heal issues as with the ones above, simple mindfulness can even help with physical ailments over time. It’s important to remember, however, that mindfulness is not a miracle cure, and it isn’t a medicine, either. However, by taking care of the source of some physical ailments, the symptoms will clear up, as well.
For example, consider symptoms like nausea, gastrointestinal upset, loss of appetite (or excessive appetite), and even headache. Signs like these are often linked to stress and anxiety.
If you take care of the root cause – the anxiety or stress – the physical manifestations of that issue will eventually disappear as well. In this way, mindfulness should never be seen as a solution for physical ailments, but as one that can eliminate some physical symptoms by addressing the root cause.
The act of mindfulness isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone. Some people are born with an innate sense and talent for mindfulness, but most people are not. Usually, we learn how to be mindful throughout our lives.
Some mindfulness is learned naturally. For example, when you’re out enjoying nature on a bright, warm day or stargazing on a cloudless night, you can’t help but remain totally in the moment. Some things actively grab your attention and keep you in the moment, regardless of whether it’s voluntary or not.
However, this is just one step on the way to true mindfulness. Being present and aware of what’s going on around you regardless of what may be happening tomorrow is an essential first step. There’s still a long way to go from there, though.
As human beings, we have a nasty habit of judging what’s going on around us as we take information in. Part of being mindful is being non-judgmental – that is, taking in what’s going on around us without attaching thoughts or feelings to it.
For example, imagine a pizza with anchovies on it. Anchovies are a small variety of fish that are often canned, resulting in a pungent smell that many people do not enjoy. However, they can still be seen as an ingredient on pizzas, despite being somewhat widely disliked.
Let’s say that you’re presented with an anchovy pizza. Your first instinct is to refuse because, well, doesn’t everyone hate anchovies on pizza? However, in the process of doing this, you’re refusing to be in the moment and take in everything about this pizza. If you’ve tried anchovy pizza and the past and disliked it, this scenario doesn’t apply, but if you haven’t, you’ll miss an essential part of your experience by refusing to try it.
Experiencing mindfulness can actually be likened to food in a lot of ways. Eating is generally a pleasant experience for people, and food comes in many different shapes, sizes, nutrients, and flavors. Just like everyone has favorite activities, everyone has favorite foods, too.
While you might prefer your life to be a certain way, just like you might prefer to eat your favorite food all the time, the same thing day-in and day-out can quickly become tedious. Similarly, you might view the days leading up to achieving your dreams as flavorless, but they’re merely different – not what you’re used to.
Let’s go back to the anchovy pizza for a second. By denying the pizza, you’re refusing to experience what’s happening in this moment of your life. You could be missing out on something you’ll enjoy in the future. Alternatively, if you try it and don’t like it, that’s okay too, but the experience will help grow you as a person in its own way.
We’re not saying to become a yes man with this metaphor, however. Instead of eating the pizza, you might be able to get a good idea of whether you’ll like it or not merely by smelling it or having someone else describe it to you. While pushing your own boundaries is excellent for personal growth, some lines should not be crossed, either.
Illegal activities lie behind one of those lines, for example. While each person should decide their own destiny and make their own, fully-informed choices, where they set uncrossable lines is entirely within their control.
However, for the sake of this metaphor, let’s assume that the anchovy pizza is something completely innocent. It could be any number of things, such as:
- An activity, like camping, sports, traveling, or cooking
- An object, like clothing, a hairstyle, or a piece of furniture
- A concept or intangible object, like a song or a school of thought
- An actual anchovy pizza
You don’t need to eat the pizza to get the full benefits of mindfulness. However, you do need to reserve judgments about it. For example, flat-out refusing to go to the pizza joint because they serve anchovy pizza is the opposite of being non-judgmental.
Remove Your Lenses
Have you ever heard the phrase, “seeing the world through rose-colored glasses?” This idiom refers to the habit of seeing something in a (sometimes falsely) positive light. While having a positive, upbeat outlook on life is fundamentally good; a skewed perception of reality is not. Those seeking mindfulness should always be looking to see the world as it is.
This might not seem as uplifting as it really is simply by seeing it on paper. However, by removing the negative, stress-tainted lenses that you usually see the world with, everything will seem much more positive (and beautiful) by default.
Kabat-Zinn said something with illustrates this relationship well: “…mindfulness is just about being in [a] wise relationship with the moment…” This means that mindfulness should see both the good and the bad in the current moment, but it shouldn’t misattribute either one. Some moments will be more difficult than others, and some will be much more enjoyable, but all moments are inevitable and valuable in their own ways.
Unfortunately, another barrier to learning how to be mindful is that “mindfulness” has turned into a cultural buzzword. The ways people use the term may not match up to the definition we’ve introduced in this guide.
Mindfulness can be frequently misattributed to a variety of new-age techniques, to meditation in general, or even concepts that don’t relate to mindfulness at all. Unfortunately, this can cast negative shadows over mindfulness. You might call this phenomenon “pop-mindfulness.”
Mindfulness is an incredibly helpful way of thinking, but it can still be harmful in the wrong hands. As we hinted at earlier, the wrong type of mindfulness mentality can lead to becoming a “yes man” and getting into situations that are detrimental to your person. Teaching this school of thought the wrong way can lead to unforeseen consequences or unintended side effects. At best, you might end up with no effect at all.
Mindfulness can be incredibly useful for treating some forms of trauma, too. However, in the wrong hands, mindfulness could even make the trauma worse. As such, it’s essential to be aware of both the ways that mindfulness can be abused and how it can be misattributed.
Mindfulness meditation is just one of many ways to apply mindfulness, but it’s still an incredibly useful technique that can be very effective for mental and bodily healing. In fact, many of the misattributions of mindfulness are for mindfulness meditation. While the two concepts are linked, they’re functionally different.
As the name suggests, mindfulness meditation is a combination of mindful thought and the act of meditation. Mindfulness meditation is particularly useful for chronic pain.
Believe it or not, practicing mindfulness on pain – that is, the act of feeling it, experiencing it, and accepting it – can be incredibly powerful for moving past and even relieving that pain. Practicing mindfulness meditation can make changes in the brain itself, fundamentally changing the way you feel future pain. It can even be more potent than medications in some cases.
This entire concept is illustrated well by the phrase, “what we resist, persists.” If we resist pain by denying it, refusing to accept it, and medicating to prevent it, we become more sensitive to it. However, by experiencing it, hardening ourselves to it, and receiving it, it becomes routine. Eventually, our brain learns to ignore it, or at least lessen it to a degree.
Of course, the method of doing this would be through meditation itself. Like we mentioned earlier, mindfulness and meditation are not the same, but they can be very complementary. This is where mindfulness meditation comes in.
Since mindfulness meditation has come to be more widely utilized and accepted, doctors have come to some astounding conclusions about the way our brains process pain. It is true that injury, illness, and other things cause us to feel pain, but the way our brain reacts to that pain can vary widely. Our mind can either exacerbate or dampen our response to that pain, depending on how we train it.
The thoughts, feelings, and memories you associate with your pain can make you feel echoes of that pain long after injury and sickness have left your body. What’s worse, if you continue to dwell on these feelings and the pain they evoke, that process can engrave “pathways” in your brain that prime you to feel that pain in the future.
However, this same process works in reverse, too. If you work to convince your brain that the pain isn’t all that bad – if you really look at the pain from every angle, experience it, and overcome the negative feelings that you may associate with it – you can prime your brain not to feel that pain anymore. Instead of carving a predisposition to pain in your mind, you can do the same thing with resistance to that pain.