11 Definitions of Mindfulness


photo by sonny abesamis (creative commons)

Mindfulness definitely has exciting applications for use in psychotherapy. Depending on how you conceptualize it, there are certain commonalities between states induced and fostered by both mindfulness and psychotherapy. But what is mindfulness? Here are eleven definitions of mindfulness, mostly from cognitive psychologists, but also from a few Buddhist meditators.

[If you’re interested in the topic of therapies that use mindfulness, check out KC Mindfulness, a blog written by someone that uses these interventions — it’s chock full of information.]

[Update: Here’s a link to a New York Times piece you may find of interest, How Meditation May Change the Brain. I’d also direct the interested reader to a host of resources at the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center, part of the Semel Institute at UCLA. This page includes both a mindfulness bibliography and a summary of mindfulness research. Good stuff. But enough of that — here are the mindfulness definitions!]

  1. The clear and singleminded awareness of what actually happens to us and in us at the successive moments of perception (Nyanaponika Thera, 1972; cited in Brown & Ryan, 2003
  2. Keeping one’s consciousness alive to the present reality (Hanh, 1976; cited in Brown & Ryan, 2003)
  3. Psychological and behavioral versions of meditation skills usually taught in Eastern spiritual practices… [usually focused on] observing, describing, participating, taking a nonjudgmental stance, focusing on one thing in the moment, being effective (Linehan, 1993; as cited in Hayes and Shenk, 2004)
  4. Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally (Kabat-Zinn, 1994)
  5. A state of psychological freedom that occurs when attention remains quiet and limber, without attachment to any particular point of view (Martin, 1997).
  6. Bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis (Marlatt & Kristeller, 1999)
  7. A way of paying attention that originated in Eastern meditation practices (Baer, 2003).
  8. To simply “drop in” on the actuality of [one’s] lived experience and then to sustain it as best [one] can moment by moment, with intentional openhearted presence and suspension of judgment and distraction (Kabat-Zinn, 2003).
  9. Mindfulness captures a quality of consciousness that is characterized by clarity and vividness of current experience and functioning and thus stands in contrast to the mindless, less “awake” states of habitual or automatic functioning that may be chronic for many individuals (Brown & Ryan, 2003)
  10. Broadly conceptualized… a kind of nonelaborative, nonjudgmental, present-centered awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is (Kabat-Zinn, 1990, 1998; Shapiro & Schwartz, 1999, 2000; Teasdale, 1999; Segal, Williams, & Teasdale, 2002; as cited in Bishop et al., 2004)
  11. A process of regulating attention in order to bring a quality of nonelaborative awareness to current experience and a quality of relating to one’s experience within an orientation of curiosity, experiential openness, and acceptance. We further see mindfulness as a process of gaining insight into the nature of one’s mind and the de-centered perspective (Safran & Segal, 1990) on thoughts and feelings so that they can be experienced in terms of their subjectivity (versus their necessary validity) and transient nature (versus their permanence) (Bishop et al., 2004).

See also my blog related to matters mindful — LA Eastsider Mindful.

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Clinical Psychologist practicing in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.

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