There’s a lot of talk about “Mindfulness” these days. It’s become a “buzzword” in self-help, coaching, psychological and modern postural yoga spheres and healthcare practices, alike but what does it really mean and has the concept been somewhat diluted since going mainstream?
“Mindfulness” is actually an ancient concept derived from Eastern philosophy, primarily the Buddhist tradition, and is a fundamental practice in the belief system and science of yoga and Hindu philosophy, though they don’t call it that. Jon Kabat-Zinn popularized the concept as well as the term by bringing it’s value on stress reduction to the forefront of modern medicine.
Wikipedia defines ‘Mindfulness’ as, “…the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, which one can develop through the practice of meditation and through other training.” This definition is rather rudimentary compared to the ancient eastern practices of cultivating awareness, which in my humble opinion is modern day “mindfulness”. The Wikipedia definition does little to explain how to really go about it, nor the tremendous benefits of doing so to both the individual practitioner and the world, at large.
For me, as a student of yoga, ‘mindfulness’ is about thinking and acting with intention, in the present moment, which necessitates awareness of self, the material and immaterial world and ‘waking-up’ if you will, to naked reality or ultimate reality as the only universal truth, without judgment and with total acceptance of what is as opposed to how we want things to be, which is also about relinquishing our need to control outcomes. So what is ‘ultimate’ or ‘universal truth’ and how does this differ from our individual reality? Individual reality is subjective to the perceiver as what we’re perceiving is influenced by past experiences, thoughts and feelings. It’s your world-view through your own sensory experience, belief system and all of the historical information you have to acquit you, which is inevitably limited and biased. In this context, “mindfulness” necessitates extricating, subjectivity and transitory thoughts, fleeting emotions and past experiences from the rawness of the present moment so that we can simply bear witness to what is actually happening without labelling things, adding drama or making assumptions that stem from our conditioning. From this space, we’re better equipped to respond and act more skillfully to external conditions regardless of whether or not they’re favourable. We’re calmer when faced with adversity and better able to make more thoughtful decisions and act with consideration and compassion towards ourselves and others.
To cultivate mindfulness, we need to have a very deep and honest understanding of our own nature and habituations and this involves a lot of self-reflection and ultimately spiritual work that some aren’t ready, willing or even aware needs doing. Quieting the mind through meditation and focused attention to what is happening before us, say through our asana ( yoga ) practice are examples of frameworks for cultivating the skills to be and act ‘mindfully’. More than simply understanding what it is and how to do it, we need to understand the importance of cultivating such a practice and the fact that this topic is at the forefront of multi-disciplinary discussions today is generating much needed publicity by shedding light on it’s value and making it more accessible.
Though ‘Mindfulness’ may be understood in a myriad of ways as it relates to the discipline communicating its message, it is a fundamental requirement in elevating our universal consciousness and taking humanity into a new and much needed paradigm as it benefits all of us, but it’s entirely an inside job, as it starts with an individual transformation of being. It’s something we need to commit to practicing, always and forever because only we have total control over our intentions and outward behaviour. Attempting to control or manipulate external circumstances may turn out favourably on occasion, but practically speaking there are just too many variables to be considered in this complex and intelligent universe that are entirely out of our control. Efforts to control our external world to align with our own desires is usually a self-serving and exhaustive endeavor that promotes a sense of separateness and often leads to chaos as humanity has discovered time and time again in our efforts to control each other or alter the nature of our environment. On the individual level, trying to control external outcomes leads to a great deal of avoidable suffering, as we can’t and often don’t get what we want. Opening our hearts and minds to this practice has the potential to shift the collective towards a more inclusive, compassionate, connected and unified direction, that we need now more than ever.