Welcome to the Free Mindfulness blog. Watch this space for updates on the project, original articles and guest blog entries.
Having just returned
from attending the Bangor University, Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice, "Mindfulness in Society
" conference, this felt like a good moment to share some reflections from the weekend.
I attended Bangor's last conference two years ago (which was part of the inspiration to set up this site) and I was looking forward to this opportunity to reconnect with the mindfulness community. It was a pleasure to hear from internationally renowned speakers such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Paul Chadwick, Shauna Shapiro, Willem Kuyken and Vidyamala Burch and to engage in a day's practice with Jon Kabat-Zinn. We explored what mindfulness is, theories about how it works and some of the latest research evidence, for example, results showing that mindfulness meditation impacts positively upon brain structure and function. We also saw some promising work using mindfulness for parenting and in schools, looking to give future generations an initial grounding in awareness and self compassion.
Mindfulness and heartfulness
We were reminded by several speakers that although we use the term mindfulness in English, it could just as easily be translated as heartfulness. While this was brought to our attention conceptually, what I took most from my experience at the conference was the felt sense of openness and compassion from those who presented and the attendees who I had the pleasure to meet. Compassion, or indeed heartfulness, was communicated most powerfully through being in their presence.
, an internationally recognised mindfulness teacher and researcher, has written about mindfulness encompassing the dimensions of intention, attention, and attitude (Shapiro et al, 2006). She spoke about this at the conference and her own early experiences of meditation on a retreat in Thailand, highlighting that sometimes we practice mindfulness with a belief that awareness is the most important part, yet without considering attitude we may not be practising mindfulness at all. When we practice with the intention to focus on the breath or with any other focus, we will experience our mind wandering and notice a wide range of emotions, thoughts and bodily sensations. Whatever our initial intention, what is central to mindfulness practice is bringing a curious, compassionate attitude towards whatever is arising in our awareness - whether pleasant or unpleasant, whether we are making judgements or getting angry, or feeling frustrated or bored. If we can begin to relate to these experiences as they arise and befriend them, this is the practice. Through changing this relationship with what arises we can begin to cultivate a new way of being that allows us to gain insight into what it is to be human and cultivate a more accepting attitude towards ourselves and the world around us.
Many of the speakers reminded us that this is an ongoing journey and whether you are just beginning to meditate or you have meditated for 30 years, this process of our minds wandering and making judgements or experiencing emotional reactions will continue. Rather than blindly letting this process govern our existence we can open our eyes, bring a kind attitude towards ourselves and our experiences and choose how to live in this moment, and the next, and the next.
Shapiro, S. L., Carlson, L. E., Astin, J. A., & Freedman, B. (2006). Mechanisms of mindfulness. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 62(3), 373-386
As we begin 2013, ideas about how we can do things
differently next year are abundant in our thoughts and in our
conversations. The beginning of a new
year has become a significant opportunity for change, to start doing that thing
we always wanted to do (or think we should do!), to be healthier, happier or
more productive. But why is the
beginning of a new year the time when we are more focused on change? Perhaps there is something attractive about
the idea of a clean slate, starting things afresh and hoping to keep things on
track. Perhaps we feel guilty about not
having managed to meet certain goals, and maybe finally, this time, we will
So, today, I find myself wondering how mindfulness relates
to the idea of New Year’s resolutions. Mindfulness
teaches us that the spirit of New Year, as a time for change, can be cultivated
and brought into each and every moment.
Every moment, this moment, is an opportunity to do things differently...
or maybe, just maybe, to accept things as they are.
How about taking an alternative approach, whatever time of
year you read this: Making a resolution to accept yourself exactly as you are. In some ways, a hard resolution - we all have
things we don’t like about ourselves; must we accept those too? In other ways, the easiest resolution - you
don’t need to change anything about yourself; you can be successful by just being
We often feel stressed, anxious, low or upset because things
are not how we feel they should be... “I should be thinner / taller / more attractive
/ kinder / more assertive / more successful.” This belief that we should be different
often leads us to try and change things, or to give up because we feel like
we’ll never get there. However, if we
accept that in this moment things are as they are and stop running from things
we’re unhappy with, we can find a different kind of peace. We can stop running, take a breath, and
realise that we don’t need to run from anything.
The good news is, accepting doesn’t have to mean giving up
on change. It doesn’t mean we have to
persuade ourselves that everything is the way we would want it – it may indeed
improve our health to lose or gain weight, we may feel happier if we could be
more assertive. Instead, mindful acceptance
can mean acknowledging what is here, now. When it is something we cannot change in this
moment, letting go of the impossible-to-meet need for things to be different.
From, “I’d like to go
on a diet because I’m overweight, I hate being overweight. Until I lose this
weight I won’t be happy”
To, “I’d like
to go on a diet because I’m overweight, but that’s how much I weight right now
and I’m okay with that. If I lose weight, great, if I don’t that’s okay too.”
Ironically, it is often this very acceptance of how we are
now that provides a platform, a foundation, from which we can look to make sustainable
changes. If we can accept ourselves
before making a change, our self worth is no longer contingent upon success or
failure of a given task. Rather than running
away from things we’re unhappy with, we can set a target and feel okay with
ourselves whilst moving towards it.
So what do you think?
Is this the year to make an alternative New Year’s resolution?
Initially with this project I was unsure on what scale there would
be a demand for free mindfulness resources. However, with time to grow, the number of visitors to the site has increased exponentially. Whereas the site was visited just under 200 times in the first three months, the site now averages over 1000 visits each month. Within the same time frame on average over 500 downloads are made. It is encouraging to see that this site is fulfilling its function by being able to help so many people to access mindfulness meditation resources without cost. I am also happy to report that the site continues to grow in terms of content. The Free Resources
section now has 23 audio files to download from eight different collaborators. I am grateful for their kindness in sharing their resources here and making them available to access for free.
Over the next 12 months I'll be finishing my doctorate in Clinical Psychology. As a consequence, although I will continue to monitor and work on the website, I am as yet unsure how much time I will be able to dedicate to this project. As it happens, my thesis centres around mindfulness and so my thoughts will never be that far away!
As always I am happy to be contacted
- I am interested in hearing from you if you have any questions or comments or if you would like to collaborate with the website by sharing resources. I am also interested in hearing from you if you would like to get involved with the Free Mindfulness project in other ways, whether by writing about the site, authoring a guest blog entry or contributing directly to wider content that appears on the website.
As we're moving towards 2012 it seems like a good time to reflect on how the Free Mindfulness project is going. At times it has been a daunting prospect, faced with steep learning curves in website development and editing audio files, but it has been inspiring and encouraging to find others who can see the potential of this project - I am thankful to those who have shown compassion in sharing their recordings and I look forward to collaborating with many more individuals and organisations in days to come. Three months in, here's where we're up to:
- The website is now fully functional and has been updated with new images.
- The resources section now has fourteen mindfulness meditation exercises that are free to download, from five different contributors.
- Before being uploaded to the site, lower quality recordings are now cleaned to remove background noise.
- In the first three months the site has been visited just under 200 times by people in 31 different countries.
Plans for next year:
- Now that the site is up and running it will be advertised more widely, hopefully leading to an increase in the number of collaborators and a rich and varied library of resources. If you would like to share your resources, spread the word or have any comments then we'd be happy to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Introductory information on mindfulness will be developed and the links section will be fleshed out.
- A new gallery section will be added with mindfulness related images.
- There are plans in the pipeline for a series of guest articles.
- Also look out for us on twitter, @FreeMindfulness