Before we jump into what Mindfulness and Mindfulness meditation is let’s have a look at what it’s not. This process will help to lay the foundations of your practice and give you a clear understanding of mindfulness.
One of the most concise explanations of what Mindfulness Meditation isn’t comes from Mindfulness In Plain English by H. Gunaratana Mahathera,
“We are not going to teach you to contemplate your navel or to chant secret syllables. You are not conquering demons or harnessing invisible energies. There are no colored belts given for your performance and you don’t have to shave your head or wear a turban. You don’t even have to give away all your belongings and move to a monastery. In fact, unless your life is immoral and chaotic, you can probably get started right away and make some sort of progress. Sounds fairly encouraging, wouldn’t you say?”
We all come to our first experience of mindfulness meditation with a mind full of hopes, fears and expectations.
We walk into our first class a little nervous, wondering what it’s going to be like. Whether or not mindfulness meditation is going to help you become stress free, give you greater focus, or help you feel whole again.
Even before we sit down on the mat, cushion or chair a million thoughts run through our mind, “Is this for me? I know this is going to be hard. I’ll never be able to do this. I hope I’m not surrounded by a bunch of weirdos. Did I turn the lights off at home? I’ve got to remember to fill up the car tonight. When’s that report due again? I can’t believe how much traffic there’s out there today.”
Mindfulness isn’t about getting rid of these thoughts, ideas or concepts.
Sometimes people think mindfulness is solely a Buddhist practice or concept. It’s not. It may have become popular through the Buddha. And it’s a fundamental aspect of Buddhist practice but it’s not married to it alone. Athlete’s, CEO’s and every day people from all walks of life practice it.
Jon Kabat-Zinn author of Full Catastrophe Living, the book that really started the Mindfulness movement in North America said that “Mindfulness is not about getting anywhere else.” It’s not about escape, reprieve or running away from the world at all. Mindfulness has more courage than that.
A lot of people think that when they meditate they should feel something special and if they don’t they must being doing something wrong. Mindfulness isn’t about wrong or rights. It’s not about judgements or regimented rules to follow. There’s no particular outcomes to expect.
Mindfulness isn’t solely about being aware, or watching our breathing or seeing the rise and fall of our thoughts. It’s all of these things and more.
Mindfulness isn’t really anything special at first glance. When you sit down you may experience nothing at all. Or maybe something you weren’t expecting like back pain, numbness, or a million thoughts a second. Which is frustrating, disheartening and can lead us to bail on the practice completely.
Mindfulness isn’t a lot of things. It’s not a cure all for what’s bothering you. It’s not going to solve all your problems, get rid of all your stress or give you super-powers to see into the future.
That’s a lot of isn’ts. So next up we’ll have a look at what mindfulness is.
What Is Mindfulness?
So what is mindfulness? Is it something that we all can benefit from? Can anyone do it? Do we need special equipment?
Before we get into what mindfulness is let’s talk about driving somewhere.
Have you ever been driving home or to work and you arrive there and for the life of you you can’t remember the journey. You’ve been in the car for an hour, turning, stopping, accelerating but there’s no real imprint of the actual journey. It’s like you were on autopilot.
Mindfulness is the opposite of that.
Mindfulness is the art of seeing clearly. It’s a way of looking at the world and seeing the way things are. Not how we want them to be. Not how we expect them to be. We don’t let our hopes or fears color the moment which in turn distorts the truth of what’s happening in some way.
Mindfulness helps us develop continuous present moment awareness of:
- The body (e.g., posture, breath),
- Feelings (pleasant, unpleasant or neutral),
- Mind (thoughts, emotions, intentions, volitions, etc.)
Mindfulness is about bringing your complete attention to the present experience on a moment to moment basis. We pay attention to the present moment purposefully, non-judgmentally and gently. Thoughts and feeling arise and staying within our present moment awareness we acknowledge what is.
Mindfulness is really about tasting the chocolate fully and completely.
So much of our days our spent travelling back to the past or flying toward the future. We are fragmented. In pieces. Scattered in non-realities. Torn between worlds. Missing out on the moment. Mindfulness anchors ourselves in the present so that we can see the gift that it is.
Mindfulness is about being curious. We become curious and interested in the present moment. We watch the rise and fall of our thoughts and emotions with a compassionate detachment. With a loving awareness. We see how anger, worry, fear, frustration arise from within us, and then subside. We see the triggers that influence these moments. We identify the routine habits that lock us into unskillful behavior. And that awareness, that insight into the inner workings of our minds gives us the keys to our freedom. The moment to moment awareness gives us space. A little more time to choose our reactions with a little spice of wisdom. And over time we’re no longer ruled by the goings on of the external or internal worlds. We see the free play of mind clearly. We’re no longer ruled by these fleeting emotions, memories or projections.
With mindfulness, with that compassionate awareness we see that there is a world of thoughts and passions within us. We observe them. Watch them. Like a person standing on the shore gazing in silent wonder at the rise and fall of the ocean.
“Once an old woman came to Buddha and asked him how to meditate. He told her to remain aware of every movement of her hands as she drew the water from the well, knowing that if she did, she would soon find herself in that state of alert and spacious calm that is meditation.”
A lot of people believe that mindfulness meditation will help them become calm. But in reality mindfulness and the practice as a whole peels back the layers of mind-stuff to reveal the deep calm and tranquility that lives within us already. The practice helps to root us in that awareness. It anchors us to that true feeling of peace. A calm abiding that is available to each and every one of us.
Our minds are vast a spacious – like clear blue skies. Thoughts, feelings, events are like clouds passing along and in front of our consciousness. The sky doesn’t say “I am a cloud” when a cloud is floating through the sky. The sky doesn’t say “I am a storm.” when the dark clouds are gathering and lightning and thunder begin.
No, the sky looks at these events and says “Look a storm is brewing. A great ruckus is going on.” And it watches and waits patiently, calmly. It doesn’t confuse itself with the goings on in front of it. It remembers and know that it’s the sky. Vast and immense. It has the space to hold the clouds and the storms – but it isn’t effected by them. The sky remains the same.
Mindfulness helps us to remember our own vastness. Reminding us of our immense capacity to be of the world but not be effected by it. We watch with wonder. We hold the moment within our awareness because we have the compassionate and curious power to do so. Remembering that the storms will pass and forever and always we are clear blue skies.
Keep being awesome!