11 Definitions of Mindfulness

Mindfulness definitely has exciting applications for use in psychotherapy. But what is mindfulness? Here are eleven definitions of mindfulness, mostly from cognitive psychologists, but also from a few Buddhist meditators.

  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)

Adapted from a post of the same title at pasadenatherapist.wordpress.com


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

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