What is mindfulness, and why does it matter?

Mindfulness is flavour of the year, in business, schools and the NHS. But what is it and how does it relate to coaching? 

In a nutshell, mindfulness means being aware of what is happening right now.  Mindfulness practices support us to notice what is happening in our bodies, in our emotional and feeling states and our mental activities.

Mindfulness was developed by the Buddha in the 6th Century BC.  He realised that life contains within it the cause of our dissatisfaction and unhappiness.  He developed a detailed path for ending this dissatisfaction, “the noble eightfold path”, which includes “right mindfulness.” Many of the mindfulness practices used today have therefore been practised for two and a half millennia.

For those suffering from anxiety, stress and depression,  the therapeutic value of mindfulness has now been proven in clinical trials.  Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR), developed by Jon Kabat Zinn, is now offered in medical settings throughout the world.

In business, mindfulness has become acceptable in a way that would have been unheard of 10 years ago.  A New York Time magazine cover story recently featured the “hunger to get centred” in business.  Of course there is a business benefit to this; mindfulness helps concentration and focus and reduces stress.

But it is not just the bottom-line at play here. Mindfulness is booming because of the increasing pressure on all of us. Although the human condition remains the same as it was in the Buddha’s time,  our technology-based society is upping the ante. In the West at least we live in a world where multitasking is the norm, and we are encouraged to look to the future rather than stay in the present.

While mindfulness is often thought of as meditation, it is a key element in many other practices, including mindfulness based coaching. Without any requirement to close your eyes , or sit cross-legged, mindfulness based coaching is an awareness practice.

In my own coaching practice, I find that the more I can be in the present moment with the client, the more I can “stay with them” as they lead their own process of “enquiry” into issues or blocks that may be troubling or challenging them.  In this way surprising insights arise – not from an intellectual analysis but from a mindful opening to the nature of what is happening.

So , our dissatisfaction is the rich soil for our own development. Stress in all the myriad ways it manifests, is trying to tell us something, if only we would listen.