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What Is Mindfulness?

Life is the giver and this moment is the gift.

A simple way to understand mindfulness is to recall what you do when someone gives you a gift.

Do you step away and put up your hands to block it?

Do you run away from it?

Do you take it, shake it, and decide immediately that it’s too heavy, too expensive or not what you want, without even opening it?

Do you try to give it back?

Of course not. You usually smile, say thank you and hold out your hands to receive the gift. You might have an idea of what it is and how you can use it, but you can’t be sure until you accept it, and open it.

Still using this analogy of you receiving a gift, think of life as the giver, and this moment as the gift. The accepting and opening of the gift is mindfulness.

Mindfulness is accepting and working with what is, without judgment or expectation.

When you’re mindful you’re watchful and aware in the present moment. You pay alert attention to what is, with no preconditioned thoughts getting in the way of clearly seeing what is.

Another way of saying it is:

Mindfulness gives space to the gift of whatever arises in this moment.

The present moment is packed full of possibilities. Mindfulness surrounds this moment with the space in which your meaningful response can arise.

In his book The Wise Heart, Jack Kornfield put it like this:

Mindful attention to any experience is liberating. Mindfulness brings perspective, balance and freedom.

A practical example of mindfulness in action

To illustrate mindfulness in action, consider the moment you knock over your favourite vase and it lies in pieces around your feet.

Disappointment, annoyance or sadness surge through your brain and body. Maybe denial or disbelief step in. You don’t want this moment. You wish you could give it back. But you can’t. It has happened. This moment is here and there’s no going back.

Maybe you let out a howl that alarms the neighbours. Out of anger you might grab another vase and smash that too. Or you mutter that you’ve always been a clumsy oaf as you sweep the shattered pieces into the dustpan and hurl them into the bin.

But there is another way . . .

Your favourite vase lies in pieces around your feet.


You accept what is without judgement. The vase is smashed. What was whole is now broken. There may be tears as you pick up the pieces. You may consider gluing it together again, or choose some of the larger pieces to create a mosaic to celebrate its beauty. Or you may put them all gently into the bin, using that moment to reflect on the impermanence of all things.

Whether the vase is a cherished Dresden family heirloom given to you by your great aunt Mavis, or one you paid $2 for at the local charity shop, bringing mindfulness to the moment of its breaking stops you from wasting time and energy in pointless anger or regret.

This moment is what it is. It may contain a smashed vase, an accident, a diagnosis, good news, unexpected guests, a breakthrough or a delay.

What you do with this moment is up to you.

Mindfulness provides space to allow possible meaningful responses to arise.

Initially mindfulness is a tool. Then it becomes a way of life.

With love, Marlane

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