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The litmus test for mindfulness

Updated: Oct 4, 2022

Mindfulness is often misunderstood, or maybe better said, it's not understood well enough.

Do you think you're clear on what mindfulness is?

You might be nodding 'yes', but would you be able to state whether a particular meditation or mindful practice is truly 'mindfulness', something else, or a hybrid of some sort?

The key traits of mindfulness

After many years of running and attending many workshops and teaching mindfulness facilitators, I'd love to share with you my list of the Key Traits of Mindfulness.

Here's how the 'litmus test' concept comes into play here: If you are wondering if a practice you're doing is mindfulness or not, see if it matches some or all of these Key Traits.

I invite you to read this uninterrupted. Slow down, and really take in what you are reading.

Do these traits align with your understanding of mindfulness?

Key Traits of Mindfulness

1. Presence

  • Being in the now

  • Bringing full attention to what we are experiencing in the present moment

  • Not thinking about the past or the future

2. Awareness

  • Being self-aware of what we are experiencing within and around us

  • Observing our thoughts, emotions, and body sensations

  • Being aware of what is around us (ie: sounds, objects, other people’s body language)

3. Non-judgment

  • Not getting caught up in our likes and dislikes

  • Being aware of our tendency to judge

  • Noticing when judgment is arising within us without acting on it

4. Being with what is

  • Seeing and accepting people, situations, objects, places, etc. as they are

  • Acceptance does not mean we have to like it or passively resign ourselves to it

  • A willingness to observe not only what is happening but the acceptance that it is happening, so we can move forward with intention

5. Kindness and compassion

  • Having an attitude of and acting with kindness and compassion towards ourselves and others

  • When we have self-talk and deal with other people, it’s good to check-in with ourselves before we speak by asking:

    • Is it kind?

    • Is it true?

    • Is it helpful?

Further to this, it's worth mentioning a little more about 'Being with what is'. This implies that we are not necessarily trying to change our state of being. For example, if we get annoyed with something, 'being with what is' helps us recognize that feeling. Now, we don't necessarily want to 'hang on to' and harbor that feeling but we still need to have our human experiences - it's OK to feel annoyed. By becoming aware of our reactions, we can then act consciously and decide how we want to deal with such reactions, rather than living in auto-pilot and letting our reactions control us without our awareness.

So, back to the litmus test concept -- if you were doing a meditation that aimed at relaxing you, and all throughout the meditation you are being asked to 'reelaaaax' over and over again, would this be considered a mindfulness meditation? No, it would not, because the goal of that meditation is to change your state of being.

But there is a big 'however' here. However: it begs the question "does it really matter if a practice is truly mindfulness or not?" This is an excellent question! For mindfulness facilitators, yes, it matters, because skilled and qualified mindfulness facilitators must understand the difference, but for participants it may or may not be of interest, because if the goal of the participant is to relax and they are getting the benefit, that is wonderful.


~Wendy Quan, Founder, The Calm Monkey


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