By paying attention to our thoughts and feelings in this way, we can become more aware of them, less wrapped up in them, and more able to manage them. Rather than struggling with our thoughts and feelings, or reacting impulsively to them, we can just notice them in a compassionate and interested way. This creates a space for us to make more considered decisions about how to respond to events in our lives.
How is this different from our usual way of operating? Often, rather than paying attention to our experience, we are swept away by it, carried along by thoughts and feelings, external events, interactions with other people, or memories of the the past and hopes and fears about the future. Rather than staying consciously aware of what is happening in the present moment, we get caught up in our experience – especially when we are under pressure.
Our tendency then is to get stuck in ‘automatic pilot’ : we identify strongly with our thoughts and feelings and react to them unquestionably, with limited awareness. For example, rather than see and accept that we feel angry after a difficult interaction at work, we may fly off the handle when we get get home , perhaps blaming them for putting us in a bad mood. Our impulsive reaction might then create another argument, and makes us (and our partner) feel worse.
Mindfulness, is a way of experiencing things ‘as they are’. By paying careful attention to how things are in a non-judgemental way, we can see what is happening more accurately and respond more effectively in all areas of our lives. In this way, it enhances our quality of life and well-being.