Photo by Phillip Larking on Unsplash. Image caption: Look at the flower in the picture above: imagine its texture, how it would be to touch it; notice its color, and count the number of petals on it. As you do all this, observe with compassion your mind for any thoughts that come up and how these thoughts make you feel, deep inside your body and mind.
Will mindfulness ever be more of a thing in Malaysia?
We don’t have the answer to that question but we do have the answer to the question of whether mindfulness should be more of a thing in Malaysia, and the answer is: yes, we believe that mindfulness should be more of a thing. That’s because mindfulness can help ease symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety, and thereby improve our well-being and quality of life1. By just being mindful, physical discomfort such as aches, tensions, tingling, pain, and breathlessness can be reduced and any task one has ahead of oneself will seem easier to accomplish. Mindfulness, as it turns out, is significantly associated with psychological and physical health2 . The question is, what exactly is mindfulness, and how is it done?
Mindfulness is a state of being or a process in which our inner experience (thoughts, feelings, sensations) of the present moment is recognized, acknowledged, identified, but never identified “with”, meaning that we say hello to our thoughts, feelings, and sensations (and even images and urges within us) but never hold onto them for too long— not because we cannot stand them, but because we come to learn that ignoring thoughts and feelings lead to them intensifying and because we come to learn that thoughts and feelings are ephemeral— they come and go3. That is, they are ephemeral as long as we don’t judge and don’t resist them; as long as we don’t attach our core identities to our thoughts and feelings, exactly how Eckhart Tolle puts it:
“On the level of thought, resistance is some form of judgment. On the emotional level, it is some form of negativity. The intensity of the pain depends on the degree of resistance to the present moment, and this in turn depends on how strongly you are identified with your mind. The mind always seeks to deny the Now and to escape from it. In other words, the more you are identified with your mind, the more you suffer.” 4Eckhart Tolle Quotes
In other words, even painful and uncomfortable feelings don’t last when we watch them and let them come and go. You are not your mind because your mind consists of thoughts, feelings, images, urges, and sensations that come and go like the ocean waves (or like that stray cat in your neighborhood)!
Knowing that we are not our minds is where we get the answer on how mindfulness is done: observe your mind. More specifically, observe and be aware of your mind’s contents without judging what you happen to be thinking and feeling. Tip your hat at every thought and feeling— in fact, thank each thought if you must and then gently set them free. Observe and accept each emotion. The idea is also that if your mind is something you can observe at a distance, then, your mind isn’t your essence, meaning if you think you’re a failure, you’re thinking you’re a failure but no one knows the truth! Sure, you think and feel with your mind but don’t let your mind use you and bully you with its tendency to bombard you with unnecessary thoughts, feelings, urges, and images that ultimately cause suffering. And so, mindfulness is about you using your mind by seeing it as its own thing with its own tricks, not letting your mind use you.
Now that you understand that mindfulness is a mental state, how can you practice mindfulness? True enough, mindfulness isn’t necessarily about sitting on a yoga mat or saying mantras and chants, and doesn’t even require you to close your eyes5. Like we’ve mentioned before, mindfulness, by definition, is simply a mental state; a process whereby you’re having a look at your mind’s contents in the present without resistance and without judgment. Therefore, you can have a mindful lunch, walk, shower, cooking session, and conversation6. Any activity, as it turns out, can be done with mindfulness. When you’re in a mindful state, fully aware of what you’re doing, thinking, feeling, seeing, smelling, hearing, touching in an activity, the activity becomes more relaxing and can even become something nourishing, like a self-care activity. That’s why integrating mindfulness into your daily life can be rewarding for your mental health— it’s literally the act of you checking in with your mind as you go along about your day with compassion, sans judgment.
Another reason to integrate mindfulness into your life is that through being mindful, you’ll be better at sensing if something’s not quite right with how you’re dealing with any setbacks you’re facing, which will allow you to do what’s necessary such as regulate your feelings, whether it’s engaging in deep breathing, muscle relaxation, grounding techniques, a body scan exercise or your favorite hobby. On that note, talking to someone you trust, such as a psychotherapist can also help regulate your feelings but the point is that it might not even occur to you that you need help until the feelings you often abandon intensify. That’s where mindfulness comes in— you become more aware of what you’re feeling and therefore empathize with your own struggles before it leads to something like a burnout or crisis.
And of course, aside from integrating mindfulness into your daily routine, you can set aside a time just to be mindful, such as during yoga, meditation, or stretching activities. Whichever way you choose to practice mindfulness— be it during a yoga session or cooking time— be sure to stay open-minded, present, and empathetic to yourself and remember that it takes discipline to truly incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine. Start by focusing on your breath.
 Hofmann, S. G., & Gómez, A. F. (2017). Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Anxiety and Depression. The Psychiatric clinics of North America, 40(4), 739–749. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psc.2017.08.008
 Ramaci, T., Bellini, D., Presti, G., & Santisi, G. (2019). Psychological Flexibility and Mindfulness as Predictors of Individual Outcomes in Hospital Health Workers. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 1302. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01302
 Bishop SR. Mindfulness: A Proposed Operational Definition. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice. 2004;11(3):230–241. doi: 10.1093/clipsy/bph077.
 Goodreads. (n.d.). Eckhart Tolle Quotes (author of the power of Now) (page 4 Of 67). Goodreads. https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/4493.Eckhart_Tolle?page=4.
 Castagna, Z. (2021, February 24). Do’s and don’ts: A guide to mindfulness. RTL Today – Do’s and Don’ts. https://today.rtl.lu/entertainment/do-s-and-don-ts/a/1676985.html.
 Gregory, C. (2013, May 3). How to transform negative thoughts with mindfulness meditation. Greatist. https://greatist.com/happiness/thinking-negative-thoughts-mindfulness-meditation#6.
Written by Iffah Suraya Jasni, a provisional counsellor from the Master’s in Professional Counselling at the University of Malaya. Currently a Crisis Team Member with MIASA and has working experience as a content writer. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Boston University and is interested in trauma, mindfulness, spirituality, body image, and helping humans cope with adversities.