Every second of every day, every interaction we have in our lives, we are forming associations in our mind. More often than not, we are completely unaware of the associations that have been made. We can go along on autopilot, unaware of the thought processes that might be influencing our feelings and sensations and therefore our behaviour on a daily basis.
The basis of mindfulness (or mindful awareness) is to cultivate an awareness of the present, of moment-to-moment experiences and thoughts, and to non-judgmentally and kindly pay attention to those experiences as they are.
By learning to bring your attention back to the present by focusing on an “anchor” (usually the breath, but we can also focus on parts of the body and external objects), we are able to clearly notice when we have slipped into autopilot mode and observe our thought patterns with greater clarity, particularly negative or self-critical ones.
Once we are more aware of those feelings, we can go about altering our relationship with them and learn how to step out of certain thought processes and previously automatic reactions. We can become more comfortable with difficult feelings and situations, and take our time to respond rather than react. In time, we can alter our relationship with expectation (“I ‘should’ be doing something else right now” or “I ‘shouldn’t’ be feeling like this”) and actively choose to let go.