Introduction to Mindful Awareness

Daniel Vinograd

DIANA: I’m really happy to be here. I’m the Director of Mindfulness Education at the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center. I speak a lot about what mindfulness is, and I do it in a way that I hope is going to be of interest to you and helpful to you, and of course it’ll be very experiential. But I wanted to start the presentation with just some of the basics of what mindfulness is, and give you a little bit about the background and the science behind it. Because I think some of the science is quite interesting and helpful in understanding why mindfulness might be for you.


One thing I’m curious about is how many people in this room have had some exposure to mindfulness? Wow, okay. A lot of you already know. How many people here have a mindfulness practice? So there’s been a lot of exposure and not too many people who have been doing it regularly. Well, you’ll get more exposure, if you’ve already had it, and it’s a new practice for some of you. How many of you have done some other type of meditation, not mindfulness? Okay, so there’s been quite a bit of this. Great.
Actually, I’m curious; if anybody’s willing to say what brought them here tonight. Anybody willing to say? Yes.


SPEAKER: My husband keeps telling me that I don’t remember anything he tells me.


DIANA: Her husband says that she doesn’t remember anything he tells her. Or you tell him. I don’t remember what you just said. She is not remembering what her husband tells her, so she’s thinking that it might be helpful to be here to learn some skills and tools to boost the memory, which can be part of mindfulness, yeah. How about other people? Yes.


SPEAKER: I have constant inner dialogue that I’m trying to overcome.


DIANA: Constant inner dialogue that she’s trying to overcome. Anybody else have constant inner dialogue? (laughter) Everybody’s raising their hand. We all do. A lot of us have constant inner dialogue, and mindfulness is a way of learning to have a different relationship to the dialogue. We’ll talk quite a bit about that, how to not get taken away and swept away by that. Other reasons for coming? Anyone else want to say? Yes.


SPEAKER: My sister died recently, and she was young, and in a tragic way, and I’m recounting it over and over, playing things in my head about how it happened. Get away from that.


DIANA: She experienced a tragedy recently and is replaying it and replaying it, and wants to see how she might be able to get away from that. Definitely mindfulness can be a tool to help with difficult repetitive mental thinking, yeah. I’ll take maybe one more. Yes.


SPEAKER: The description said “learning how to focus,” and I feel that oftentimes I forget things because I’m not focusing on what I’m doing.


DIANA: Yes. Many of us forget things because we’re not focusing on what we’re doing, and mindfulness is very connected to an ability to focus, and I’ll show you some of the science behind that as we get to it. Thank you for stating your reasons for coming.


Let me talk a little bit about what mindfulness is. Here’s a definition that I like to use about mindfulness. Mindfulness is paying attention to present moment experiences with open curiosity and a willingness to be with what is. What that means is, oftentimes people are told, “Just be in the present moment. Can you be in the present moment?” But how do we do that? Mindfulness is an actual tool; it’s a technique for keeping us in the present moment, or at least teaching us how to do that.
We pay attention with a very specific kind of attention, something that’s open and receptive, curious and has a willingness to be with what life brings us. I’ll talk more about this. You’ll see this as we move on, but I wanted to give you the definition.


So how does mindfulness work? One way that mindfulness works is it keeps our mind from being lost in the past or the future. This was brought up earlier, but most of the time, our minds tend to careen back and forth between the past and the future. If you were to check into your mind in the course of a day at any moment, you would probably notice that you’re thinking about something that happened, replaying it in your head, analyzing, trying to figure out how you could’ve done it differently, why things happened, maybe brooding, feeling bad about it.


Or you’re thinking about the future. Something that’s going to happen, something that’s coming up. Obsessing about it, worrying about it, imagining, catastrophizing, thinking the worst. Does this sound familiar? Yeah. Because this is what our minds do. We live in the past and in the future, and we rarely live in the present.


Well, the past and the future is where stress lies. Stress lies in the past and the future because it’s where our mind goes. We think something’s happening, we think the worst is going to happen, and we just replay it out to the most awful extent. And then we have stress in our body, stress in our mind, and we’re pretty unhappy.


Second thing is that it counteracts automaticity. What do I mean by that? Most of us live life a bit on automatic pilot. It’s like you’re going through life and you kind of don’t remember what happened. Do you ever have the experience of getting in the car and getting out of the car and not having any idea what happened in between? Have you had that? It’s very common, right? We do this all the time. We go through life like we’re just zombies. Mindfulness can really counteract this automatic pilot. It can help us to be more alive, more connected, more present. Really who we are in the midst of life.


I’ll say more about this; it can be a meditation practice or it can be a quality of attention which we bring to daily life. I asked earlier, how many people have meditated before. Meditation is a big category. You might think of meditation as a category like sports. There’s hundreds and hundreds of kinds of sports. Well, there’s hundreds of kinds of meditation. Mindfulness is one type of mediation, and it’s shown to be very effective, which I’m about to go into in a few minutes.




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