The Meaning of Mindfulness

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Welcome to the first week of Dare to Do, the 8-week wellness challenge for making lasting, positive change in the New Year! This week, we’ll be encouraging you to Dare to Pause—taking time to reflect on what your goals are and how to reach them.

These days, it seems as if we are surrounded by the concept of mindfulness. But is it just the latest trend, or is mindfulness really good for…everything? First, it’s important to understand what mindfulness is. Before embarking on any program with mindfulness in the title, it’s worth exploring the meaning of the term.

What is the definition of mindfulness?

Many existing definitions of mindfulness don’t feel entirely adequate. One of the more recognized definitions of mindfulness comes from Jon Kabat-Zinn, founding executive director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

He says, “mindfulness is paying attention, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment.” This is a seemingly simple statement that actually contains some very profound basic principles of mindfulness.

Paying attention sounds superficially very easy, until we realize that we have arrived at work without having paid conscious attention to any moment of how we got there. Spending time in the present moment happens less often than you might realize.

Pause for a moment to think of how much time we spend mulling over the past or planning for the future and how little time we actually spend in the experience of being here, now.

The third element, non-judgment, can also be elusive. We love to sort things into good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant, for us or against us.
It is rare to merely meet an experience without judging it.

What does mindfulness look like? How can I learn to be mindful?

An easy way to look at mindfulness is as a means to train the mind. It is more of a process than an actual product. It can be thought of as the deliberate practice of cultivating presence and turning off autopilot. It is not about escaping reality, achieving bliss, or an altered state. It is about being fully present to reality.

The best way to learn mindfulness is to practice it. An excellent analogy is that everything that one can learn about the taste of a banana in a 20-week seminar is completely eclipsed by one bite. The one bite of mindfulness would equate to attending a daylong or weekend retreat, signing up for a five-week mindfulness training class, or an official eight-week, mindfulness-based stress-reduction class.

What in it for me? Why should I try it?

There is a mounting body of solid scientific evidence showing that mindfulness can enhance emotional self-regulation and positive emotional states. Mindfulness-based therapies have been useful in reducing relapses of patients with moderate depression, in reducing relapses of substance abuse, and even in diminishing self-harm and suicidal behavior in patients with borderline personalities.

Mindfulness presents an opportunity to be more fully present in one’s life. Cultivating the qualities of presence and non-judgment in the present moment can be revolutionary.

It’s hard to believe that anything is really good for everything. However, in our current state of highly fragmented attention, it is hard to think of any instance in which mindfulness would not support us. .

Looking for more? Explore mindfulness further with a discussion on the power of self care from UW Recreation Mindfulness Program manager Danny Arguetty. Delve deeper into mindfulness practice with this Q&A with Dr. Richard Berger, professor emeritus for the School of Medicine, on how he developed his own mindfulness practice.

Thank you to AT&T, UW Medicine, BECU, US Bank, UW Recreation, 24hr Fitness, Pure Barre, and Fremont Health Club for being Dare to Do 2019 sponsors!


Claudia Finkelstein, M.D.C.M., is a board certified physician with Long Term Care Services at UW Medicine and a UW associate professor of General Internal Medicine. She directs the UW School of Medicine Faculty Wellness Programs and has been endeavoring to be mindful for well over a decade.

One Thought on “The Meaning of Mindfulness”

On January 8, 2019 at 12:08 PM, selfstarter11 said:

I am very excited to join this challenge and plan to share with my co-workers.

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