What is Mindfulness?
There are quite a few articles online writing about mindfulness, most of them have lost the balance between click bait and quality content.
What spurned me to write this article was a piece a friend sent to me who was interested in meditating. Quite frankly, as someone who has been brought up Buddhist, I found the article very a little too negative.
The website also claims to have had 2,000,000 visitors! This made me realise, as a digital marketer in a previous life (lol), that what we face with the problems of the internet is that often the most spammy least reliable content gets to the top of the page.
So, I thought I’d like to put the story straight based on my experience and understanding of the meaning of the word. This is of course my perception of the meaning of the word, does not mean to say another person’s perception is incorrect, just a different perspective.
Essentially the term “mindfulness” has become a buzzword both in corporate companies and as a blanket term for meditation. “We must be mindful of not annoyed our customers” I hear telesales a manager say at a local newspaper sales floor. A lot of this, to me is the co-opting of the term into corporate speak, which on the one hand at least brings “being mindful” to the foreground, but on the other is at the expense of the true nature of the meaning of the word and its connotations.
One of the greatest errors, in my view, of developing mindfulness is doing this without developing compassion. Without compassion mindfulness can lead to can lead to a kind of cold-hearted detachment, IMHO. Problems can arise with the usage of certain techniques without the backup as it were of other supporting practices which balance the mind and practitioner. Therefore, sometimes, taking bits and pieces from a holistic philosophy and practice can have its pitfalls.
It is true to say that mindfulness is being present in the moment, being present and being aware in the moment. But there is more to it based on the philosophical understanding of Buddhism by which the term has been popularised.
All the basic training manuals of Therevada Buddhism (a branch of Buddhsim) develop a practice of meditation – being aware of self, both body and mind and practicing compassion. The Therevavda way also works intensively with the philosophy or structure of practical life, both physically and mentally, as taught by Gautama Buddha.
These are, from my study of religion and wellbeing practices over the last 20 years, one of the best ways to improve our lives and “become free of suffering”, namely:
The Four Noble Truths:
- There is suffering
- Suffering is caused by attachment
- There is a way out of suffering – by non-attachment
- Practical guide for the way out of suffering – the Eight-Fold Path
The Eight-Fold Path – guidance for practice to help us be free of suffering has as point seven:
- “Right mindfulness”
Now, its true to say that Anapanasati*2 – “watching the breath”, or “awareness of breath” is probably the one biggest essences of Buddhist practice, and that a way out of suffering is by practicing “Right Mindfulness” – right awareness of the present moment in everything you do.
As per point 7 of The Eight Fold Path AND, at the end of the most essential Suttra of Therevada Buddhism*3 a stage of awakening is defined as: “awareness of the presence or absence, the arising, and the culmination, of sati‘(mindfulness)”.
“Remembering Awareness” – as a practice, or “Right Awareness” –essentially means to maintain awareness of reality, where sense-perceptions are understood to be illusions and thus the true nature of phenomena can be seen.
When I was a child all the people I knew who practiced Buddhist meditation would do Vipassana (Insight) meditation which involves scanning the body and watching the breath. They also would look at a circle or spot put up on the wall and observe with a clear mind, allowing all thoughts to arise.
The only time I heard the word mindfulness apart from in the scriptures, the essential part of which is mentioned above, was when they would consciously practice it for a whole day. Practice being aware of everything you do, think and feel, for just one day at a time. Gradually through our practice this being aware of the present moment, or being aware that present awareness is not there – is good progress – even you could say, as the scriputres do that it is a stage of awakening. Now, adding to that the wisdom that, sense perceptions, conditioned consciousness and dualistic views, even materialistic views and emotions – are subject to arising and ceasing and are illusions…
Ultimately, or near ultimately, we can end up in a paradox of understanding, this is where practice comes in to help us understand clearly what is it…
Mindfulness can mean the result of your meditative practice, you become more mindful in your life the more you practice and more often wise to the illusion.
In a way, to me “Mindfulness” is a restful and yet active awareness that combines the understanding that our pure awareness of the moment is beyond all sense perceptions, transcends suffering, as we are simply present in the moment. “Mindfulness” is non-dualistic in the sense that is viewing all external and indeed internal objects purely as they are. This “Mindfulness” is also non-dualistic in the sense that it is not thinking about the future or the past. Our awareness is also not an object itself, it is just as it is – awareness.
Mindfulness is the wisdom of being present with the awareness of what that presence truly means and what that experience actually is, beyond subject and object perceptions…
But without developing compassion through the practice of LovingKindness is like creating a shell that keeps you well and protected without the resource to serve others and be happy – the Metta Sutta of loving kindness…
Your are progressing if you are mindful that you are not being mindful! (Smiley face)
*1: Mindfulness derives from the Pali word Sati (or Smrti in Hindu, Smrti has a different meaning: “tradition” or “traditional knowledge”, or even “word of God”; channeled word in some sects) which means to remember and/or awareness (awareness in the Buddhist context). In the Buddhist practice context, especially the:
The Satipatthana-Sutta or discourse on Theravada Buddhist philosophy is the most celebrated and studied Canon of Buddhist philosophy and practice. The last point within this discourse, is about the definition of awakening, one of those points in the definition is: “awareness of the presence or absence, the arising, and the culmination, of sati‘(mindfulness)”
“Remembering Awareness” – as a practice, or “Right Awareness” – the eightfold path essentially means to maintain awareness of reality, where sense-perceptions are understood to be illusions and thus the true nature of phenomena can be seen.
“And what is right mindfulness? There is the case where a monk remains focused on the body in & of itself — ardent, alert, & mindful — putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world. He remains focused on feelings in & of themselves… the mind in & of itself… mental qualities in & of themselves — ardent, alert, & mindful — putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world. This is called right mindfulness.
Discussion on the meaning of the word mindfulness with regard to Buddhism: