Publication date: 12-02-2024

Updated on: 02-04-2024

Topic: Mental health

Estimated reading time: 1 min

Mindfulness embodies the concept of the Latin hic et nunc (“here and now”, “being in the present moment”). As the word itslef says, it is the ability not to worry about situations that have not yet happened. Scientific evidence shows that practicing mindfulness can benefit the psyche, especially in times of stress, traumatic events, or while coping with complex clinical conditions. 

We have discussed this topic with Dr. Davide Carlotta, a psychologist and psychotherapist at the dedicated clinic of the Istituto di Cura Città di Pavia, who makes part of the team of Prof. Fossati, full professor and dean of the Faculty of Psychology at Università Vita-Salute San Raffaele of Milan.  

Mindfulness: what it is and what it is not

"The concept of mindfulness," the Doctor explains, "refers to a particular mental state that consists in intentionally paying attention to the experience one is having in a given moment in a non-judgmental way. 

In a broader sense, by the term mindfulness we also refer to a set of mental operations and actions, that we put in place to achieve such awareness."

Although it is often seen as an innovative tool, mindfulness is by no means a recent discovery, if it can be called a discovery at all. Historically, it forms the heart of the Buddhist meditative tradition. 

"Of course you don't need to be a Buddhist to practice it," Dr. Carlotta points out. "We have all experienced mindfulness in one way or another at some point in our lives: it is an intrinsic quality of human experience. The great contribution of Buddhist traditions has been primarily to develop simple and effective ways of cultivating this ability and bringing it into all aspects of life."

The fact that mindfulness has such ancient roots, going back millennia in the history of Eastern religions, should not be misleading. Mindfulness is not a mystical condition, or a kind of trance; nor it is a relaxation technique, although this can be a side effect of it. 

It aims at: 

  • cultivating mindfulness;
  • making us attentive to what our mind is experiencing in the present. 

Some pointers or tools for learning this technique

The main tool of achieveing the state of mindfulness is meditation, in its various forms, but it is also possible to cultivate this capacity of our mind through “informal” practices. 

"The key element is to train our concentration skills. To do that: 

  • we identify an object to focus our attention on (such as, for example, the breath, a mental image, a mantra, etc.);
  • whenever we observe the mind moving away from it, we gently bring it back there. 

It is a real exercise that if practiced regularly, but without forcing, will gradually become natural, and over time we will reap the beneficial effects on our minds and bodies," explains the specialist. 

Benefits of this practice

Through this process, of full awareness of the present state, we become increasingly able to decentralize from the contents of consciousness (i.e., thoughts, emotions and perceptions) and gain a clearer and more objective view of our present experience. 

"We are thus," the Doctor says, "faced with a radical shift in perspective: instead of being continually immersed in our own personal daily “drama,” we can step to the side and simply witness what is happening moment by moment."

Scientific research has repeatedly shown how mindfulness interventions can bring significant quality-of-life benefits. 

"One must be patient, however, as changes occur gradually and accumulate over time. That is why it is important to show some indulgence to yourslef, trying to allow emotions and feelings the space to express themselves, without negative judjments if getting distracted and without comparing yourself to others," the specialist concludes.

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