Mindfulness Meditation

Trait Mindfulness II

So, did you take the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ)?  If not and you would like to, just scroll down to the previous post and you’ll find the link to the online version of this self-assessment.  Whether you choose to take it or not, you might find its “five facets” interesting and helpful.

Overall the FFMQ seeks to assess the extent of a person’s Dispositional Mindfulness, which is understood as the experience of mindfulness as a trait of personality, and not as a state one practices through meditation.  To reiterate a point in my previous post, the regular practice of “state mindfulness” (i.e. formal meditation) strengthens trait (or dispositional) mindfulness.  Presumably the FFMQ will give you an idea as to how “trait mindful” you are, much like a personality assessment might give you an idea as to how extraverted or introverted you are.

The FFMQ goes further than simply an overall assessment of Dispositional Mindfulness, however.  It breaks mindfulness into these five facets, or parts:

Observing: This is the tendency to notice or attend to internal and external experiences, such as sensations, emotions, cognitions, sounds, sights, and smells.  When we do sitting meditation, it’s not unusual to anchor your attention in your breath, while noticing the various awarenesses that come to your attention, like those named above.  This facet assesses whether you believe you maintain this level of awareness on a general basis

Describing: This is the tendency to describe and label those experiences with words.  Are you skilled at naming how you’re feeling?  At finding words to describe your internal, mental experiences?  That is what this facet intends to capture.

Acting with Awareness:  This is the tendency to bring undivided attention to current activities and experiences.  As life unfolds, are you aware and noticing?  Able to say in your mind’s voice “I’m reading this blog in this moment and learning something new”?

Non-Judging: This is the tendency to accept and not evaluate your internal experiences.  You simply notice them, perhaps you name them, perhaps not, but you do not fuse with those experiences.  “These feelings or perceptions or thoughts are mental events I’m having, but they’re not WHO I am.”

Non-Reacting: This is the tendency to allow thoughts and feelings to come and go, without getting caught up or carried away with them.  It is the natural consequence, in a way, of having a non-judging attitude toward your internal experiences.  “I feel THIS way; what is my most skillful response?” may be what you hear yourself think.

In a nutshell, according to this body of research being “mindful” means to observe your internal experiences in a way that allows you to describe them, neither judge nor react strongly to them, and act skillfully in full awareness.  I think it’s an interesting way to look at mindfulness, one that can help us to deepen our practice.

In the course of a typical day we all find ourselves living quite mindlessly; it’s pretty inevitable.  In the moment I realize “hey, I’m being pretty mindless,” having knowledge of these five facets of mindfulness may help me to realize where I went off course and help to guide my formal meditation practice.  For instance, if I find myself getting carried away with my feelings, then working on remaining non-judgmental in my formal practice may be very helpful.  Often in our formal practices an urge to do something (like change our posture or turn off the fan that’s making that clicking sound) arises; sitting and abiding with that urge might help each of us to be more non-reactive in our day-to-day living.

So, maybe this way of thinking about mindfulness helps you to understand your practice, maybe not, but it’s good to know that there are a lot of scholars out there taking this ancient practice very seriously and learning more about how it helps people to have less suffering and greater serenity.  You’ll find a lot of information in news sources about this kind of research, and I would encourage you to let it stoke your curiosity as you deepen your personal practice.



By Jim Walsh

I am a Pastoral Counselor in private practice in Wilmington DE. I teach Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction as part of my work as a therapist.

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