In most people’s minds, mindfulness and meditation seem to be the same as being in a daze, but in fact, they are not. Mindfulness is a type of meditation. It is a method of concentration. According to Dr Kabat Zin, an authority on mindfulness research in Western psychology, mindfulness is deliberate and uncritical attention to the present.
It has three characteristics: deliberate, present and non-critical.
Specifically, “deliberate concentration” refers to when you are concentrating on exercising mindfulness, you know that you are concentrating on exercising mindfulness, and not on other things. And “concentration in the present” means to focus on the present moment. In mindfulness practise, we don’t have to pay attention to the past and future expectations, just focus on the present moment. Finally, “concentration without judgment” focuses on objective existence, rather than subjectively evaluating it’s good and bad. If we can achieve the above three points, we can say that we are in a state of righteous thoughts.
When doing mindfulness training, we can deliberately be aware of our current physical and emotional feelings. Deliberately withdraw our attention from ordinary thoughts, and form a stable focus in the present time and space. After calming down, we will have more keen senses, allowing the body to feel everything in the present.
Seeing this, you may ask, usually, we also observe our own physical feelings. Is this different from mindfulness? Under normal circumstances, we will look for the reasons for the feelings we perceive. For example, when we are feeling upset, we will wonder if there are too many things and too much pressure recently, instead of focusing on the state of mind itself. It is worth noting that when we conduct mindfulness training, we deliberately let ourselves let go of these existing prejudices and try to experience the pure present without criticism. In addition, we may still be able to realize at this time when we are losing objectivity and forming prejudices, and when we feel that we are attentive but our thoughts have been erratic.
So, does mindfulness training affect brain structure and function?
Some psychologists have found evidence of empirical research. Ms Linsk Gottink and his colleagues have found more than 30 research experiments using MRI and other technologies, have found structural changes including activity level and activity volume. Based on this, they believe that mindfulness exercises can help our brains manage emotions.
From this point of view, mindfulness is completely different from being in a daze. In mindfulness, we can deliberately and non-critically focus on ourselves at this moment, so as to have more control over our emotions.