MINDFULNESS - General Information
Mindfulness is one of the central practices in Buddhism. Put simply, when we are mindful, we are aware, we notice what is going on around us and inside us.
Mindfulness is something we can practice when we're on the bus, when we're waiting in the queue at the shop, while we're eating. It's not religious - it's simply about paying attention to what's there with an attitude of interest and exploration.
Through being mindful, we learn that small things can have a big effect. Becoming aware of our bodies, our emotional life, our communication with others, helps us to live a life that flows into a rich tapestry of awareness, imbued with beauty and appreciation.
From a Buddhist perspective, mindfulness includes even an awareness of 'how things really are' - an awareness of the true nature of things. By being mindful, the Buddha says, we become more wise and more free. It's because of this that he said that 'mindfulness is the direct path to freedom'.
Aspects of Mindfulness
Mindfulness means being able to be aware of what's going on in your experience, and to vividly inhabit our experience.
It's about being able to stay fully with whatever is going on, being able to be present and continue to be present with whatever is going on, regardless of whether that's pleasant, painful or neutral.
Firstly, it means being present with your experience; being in the 'here and now' of what's going on. This aspect of mindfulness emphasises present moment awareness.
By simply being aware of what's actually going on in, we can transform how we experience the world.
So instead of dwelling with our stories, our fears, our wanting things to be other than they are, we simply open up to how they actually are.
And this awareness is revolutionary - it helps us to see that, while our immediate experience can simply be pleasurable or painful, we layer on all kinds of stories and worry onto this primary experience, much to our detriment.
The Buddhist term for this aspect of mindfulness is sati, which literally translates as 'recollectedness, memory, recalling to mind', indicating that practising being present with your experience is often simply a matter of remembering to be mindful.
Continuity of Purpose
But, from a Buddhist perspective, mindfulness goes beyond simply being present with your experience. After all, it's simply to easy to get distracted from and forget being mindfully present.
And so the second aspect of mindfulness is to have a continuity of purpose.
As we're being present with our moment-to-moment experience, we are also in touch with a sense of purpose, a clarity of purpose, a continuing positive desire to remain mindful as we go about our life.
After all, it's relatively easy to be present with our experience when we're sitting quietly by ourselves, but when we're in the midst of a busy work day, or getting our kids ready for school, we need something more to help us.
So if we want to be mindful, we need to really have a clear sense that we want to remain mindful throughout our day. Our purpose will be that, as we go through our day, we will, in each and every moment, remain mindful of what's actually happening in that moment.
Vigilance as to What We Dwell Upon
But even presence combined with a sense of purpose is not enough for true mindfulness, from a Buddhist perspective. So the Buddha talks about a further element to mindfulness - vigilance. Specifically, we need to be vigilant about whether or not it is helpful to dwell upon the things we dwell upon.
For example, we might dwell upon an argument we have had with a colleague, and are very able to be present with our replays of the argument, as well as having a clear sense of purpose to feel enmity towards the colleague. Nonetheless, this is not true mindfulness, and will lead us into more and more negative states of mind.
Instead, it's the aspect of mindfulness that is vigilance that warns us that it's not helpful to dwell upon this argument, and encourages us to move our attention onto something more wholesome; for example, letting go of ill-will and instead moving towards acceptance of or loving-kindness for that person.
What vigilance really boils down to is asking oneself - is it useful for me to sit here dwelling on that disagreement...? Or that fantasy about winning the lotto...? Or in just going vague about what our responsibilites are...?
On a more positive note, vigilance also is that part of mindfulness which sees and values being aware, being kind, being in connection with other people. It's what tells us that where true value is to be found.
We may not be able to cut off from the hectic nature of modern life, and the flood of information coming at us. But we can choose where we give our attention, and to give that attention to matters that have real significance and bearing on our lives.
When we are mindfully vigilant, we never let an opportunity for something positive pass, and quickly learn to make the most of our opportunities. When we walk, we take the opportunity to mindfully enjoy it. When we are with people, we take the chance to really appreciate our relationship with those people.
In this way, mindfulness helps us live a truly positive human life.
For the most part, mindfulness is simply something you just do. You are either mindful or you are not! But there are many ways to help us to 'just be mindful'.
Meditation is one of the best tools in the Buddhist armoury to help to develop mindfulness. Specifically, the 'Mindfulness of Breathing' meditation practice develops and deepens mindfulness.
As its name implies, the practice uses the breath as the object of concentration. By focusing on the breath, we become aware of the mind's tendency to jump from one thing to another.
The simple discipline of concentration brings us back to the present moment and all the richness of experience that it contains. In it, we can learn how to let go of unhelpful behaviours and instead enjoy the direct simplicity of the breath.
In particular, the Mindfulness of Breathing is a good antidote to restlessness and anxiety, and a good way to relax. Focusing on the breath has a beneficial effect on both our body and our mind.
The practice isn't just about helping us relax, however - it also helps us to unlock and integrate our deeper emotional energies. By practising the Mindfulness of Breathing regularly, we can experience ourselves becoming more free at deeper and deeper levels of ourselves.
Our meditation courses teach both this practice and the complementary Development of Loving Kindness meditation pracitce. They're a great way to learn meditation.
Book on now for one of our meditation courses.
Mindfulness off the Meditation Cushion
We can develop mindfulness off the cushion too. There are many ways to do this, but one useful framework is the Four Foundations of Mindfulness
Awareness of Body
This is about maintaining awareness of our body and its movements - being aware as we are walking, sitting, standing, lying down... It's being open to the natural rhythms of the body as we go about our day.
Awareness of Feeling-Tone
Being aware of feeling-tone means simply noticing whether the sensations we experience are pleasant or painful, instead of getting into unhelpful stories about our experience.
Awareness of Emotions
This is awareness of whether we are happy, sad, dull, angry. By becoming aware of our emotional life we will find that unhelpful emotional states - such as hatred, greed, fear - will tend to be resolved; whereas helpful emotional states - such as love, kindness, peace - will deepen and refine.
Awareness of Thoughts
Most of our thinking is only vaguely conscious. Instead we can learn to watch them from moment to moment and see where they come from an where they go. By being aware of our mental chatter, we help it to settle, and eventually become completely silent. Even if we can't still our thoughts, we can learn not to get so caught up in them.
By cultivating mindfulness in these four areas, we can walk the Buddha's path to freedom.
'Life with Full Attention' Mindfulness Course
For people who know the Mindfulness of Breathing and the Development of Loving Kindness meditations, (taught on our meditation courses), there is our 'Life with Full Attention' course.
This course will explore the full breadth of Mindfulness practice and how we can apply it more effectively in our lives, with a strong practical emphasis on how to live this out in your daily life.