What Is Mindfulness?
Through the practice of mindfulness, we wake up from mind wandering, and living our life on automatic pilot. We interrupt our ruminations about the past or future, and instead, experience what is right here, right now. We appreciate the intense redness of a rose, the crispness in the fall air, and the tremulous quiver of anxiety or anticipation. By not prejudging our experience as "good" or "bad", we relate to its living quality. The precision of mindfulness cuts through the fog of mental chatter.
Photo: Courtesy of John Alfred Longlott
Mindfulness and Awareness
Mindfulness operates within the environment of awareness. "To give your sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the way to control him",1wrote the Zen master Shunryu Suzuki. This big-picture view introduces openness, as well as a greater connection to the environment. Awareness undermines the tendency to cling to one's thoughts, emotions, and perceptions.
Without mindfulness, we are not grounded in the present; we might miss our doctor's appointment. Without awareness, our horizon narrows to tunnel vision; we obsess on our problem and lose all sense of perspective. Awareness connects us with the world that exists beyond self-absorption. Mindfulness and awareness work together, like two wings of a bird. They combine an appreciation of reality--the world we see, hear, taste, touch, smell--with openness to the big picture.
The core mindfulness practice is meditation. This type of "meditation" is not exotic. Quite the contrary...It is extremely pragmatic. It is not about trying to achieve a particular state of mind, such as peace, happiness, or bliss, while avoiding discomfort. Nor is it about zoning out, and making the mind go blank. Through mindfulness-awareness meditation, we allow whatever shows up in our body and mind and in our experience of the world around us to occur without judgment. We are instructed not to latch on to our pleasant thoughts and feelings, and avoid the unpleasant ones. When we notice our mental chatter (our storylines), there is a technique that helps us come back down to earth. We begin to discover that all states of mind are temporary. Body and mind begin to synchronize.
1. Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, p. 32