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Mindfulness could well be considered the central pillar of spiritual wellness. It could be thought of as a spiritual practice, an attitude toward or perspective on life, and a way of living life … all combined. Mindfulness is now starting to become a central feature of mental health treatment and enhancement.

What is mindfulness? It is simply the practice of being intensely aware, focussed and "present" in the here and now. It means being fully conscious.

It sounds simple - and it is - but it also requires intentional practice and a commitment to become "mindful" as much as possible in life. True mindfulness is a minute-to-minute, as well as a lifelong practice.

Mindfulness is both challenging and illuminating because requires of us to be as fully aware as possible of everything in our personal world at all times. This means awareness of everything that is happening in the "outer world" as we experience it through our senses, as well as in our "inner world" as we experience through our thoughts and emotions.

We actually spend a lot of time not being aware of what is going on around us and especially of what is going on INSIDE us. How often is it that we find ourselves feeling anxious, depressed, angry or upset, and not really know why? Even if we can identify the "trigger" (who or what sent us into our particular frame of mind) we are often pre-disposed to act or feel a certain way before the external circumstances (trigger) appeared to initiate our inner state. Or we don't understand why we were SO reactive to such a minor incident. We don't perceive the fleeting thoughts that pass through our minds that then initiate the emotions and actions that follow. We aren't aware of the core beliefs that underly our perceptions of ourselves, the world and other people.

Another way to put it is that we live our lives largely "unconsciously". We work on automatic pilot, without full awareness of ourselves, our bodies and our environment.

Most of us are familiar with the concept of "the conscious" and the "unconscious" mind. The conscious mind is our "thinking" mind - that part of us that is awake and aware and appears to us as our "normal" selves. The unconscious mind is that part of ourselves that we are not normally aware of. It includes past memories as well as the "meta-programs" that run our minds such as our beliefs, attitudes, values and preferences …as well as our fears, desires, motivations etc. The conscious mind is only aware of a tiny fragment of what is contained within the unconscious mind, at any given time.

Being mindful means that you are fully aware of everything about you at any given moment - consciously and unconsciously. Although you can never be conscious of everything that is unconscious all at once, you can be AWARE of whatever processes are occurring inside and around you at a particular moment in time - what your thoughts, emotions, reactions and motivations are, sensations within you body, areas of tension, your breathing and heart rate, sights and sounds in the environment etc.

Mindfulness expands consciousness and makes the "unconscious", conscious.

Some describe the process of becoming more and more conscious through mindfulness as "awakening" (as in awakening from sleep or a dream) and the the state of permanent "awakening" as "enlightenment".

Enlightenment is often described as the highest mental/spiritual state a human can attain and is described as "freedom from suffering", "nirvana", "bliss" or a permanent state of joy.

One could say that enlightenment IS spiritual wellness (or perhaps the ultimate spiritual wellness) and therefore it makes senses for mindfulness - the practice that leads to enlightenment - to be included as central practice of spiritual wellness.

Don't let the above sound too daunting. Mindfulness is a simple and safe practice that is easily incorporated into your life. It's benefits, as well as your ability to incorporate it into your daily existence, are cumulative and gradual. However, the benefits of mindfulness are also quite powerful and profound and well worth the attention given to it.

Next we will discuss the actual practice of mindfulness as well as some practical exercises and techniques to help you become more mindful.