What is Mindfulness?
We all notice things. All day. Every day. But what happens when we begin to notice on purpose?
To intentionally pay attention?
There is a difference between paying attention intentionally, and only paying attention to what we desire or what we don’t desire. An example of this difference might be noticing the desire itself, as opposed to the object of desire. When it’s noticed, there is now the option to relate to it differently.
We sometimes sleepwalk throughout the day, only noticing whatever it is that dramatically calls our attention towards it. Everything else is left unnoticed and unobserved. Perhaps the only things that truly call our attention are the those that threaten or please our ego, or this ongoing state of ‘I and mine’. We walk through our days craving pleasant experiences and aversion to unpleasant ones.
Mindfulness is a shift from being unaware to being intentionally aware. Now, you’re probably reading this saying that’s great, but ‘unawareness’ doesn’t apply to me.
I’m not so sure about that.
There are moments throughout all of our days in which we are not mindful of what’s happening around us, and within us. We yell at the driver who cut us off, snap harshly at a loved one, or seek distractions that prevent us from connecting with who we really are in this moment.
Often we are unaware of what is driving our reaction and decisions. Behaving in ways that are not connected to our truest intentions and deepest values.
I’m not suggesting that we all have the capability to be mindful all of the time. I don’t think that’s realistic. Nor am I suggesting that we shouldn’t ever be frustrated, angry, sad, and disconnected. However, I believe that with practice, we can increase our moments of self-awareness and mindfulness of our experience, thus increasing our moments of happiness and contentment, and decreasing our moments of suffering. I’ll get more into how this works.
First, let’s get clear on what it is to be mindful. Mindfulness entails a curious, non-judgmental, and friendly attitude. If judgment is unavoidable, we notice that we are judging. We begin to get curious about our mind and our experience, because we are operating on the premise that our thoughts are not who we are. As Eckhart Tolle likes to say, ‘we are not our thoughts, we are the one who is aware of our thoughts.’
Mindfulness is a clear noticing of what is happening right now, whether it’s pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. This noticing is knowing. Knowing is awareness. Awareness enables us to choose the most skillful way to respond to ourselves and others in the moment. This is huge. Viktor Frankl said ‘between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In that response lies our growth and our freedom.’ In this mindful pausing, we can often choose a healthier response, and just as important, an alternative perspective with which to view the experience.
So once the awareness of thoughts is experienced as different from identifying with our thoughts as truth, a new perspective and shift can begin to take place. This takes practice. A mindfulness practice. Taking your seat in a daily meditation practice is necessary, simple (but not easy), and provides the groundwork for the mindfulness practice throughout the day.
The reason why a curious and friendly attitude are so important is because, as you are well aware, life can be unpleasant. Families, a work commute, relationships, and the daily monstrosities that occur throughout the world can be taxing. Our own minds are often unpleasant. Becoming an observer, and noticing our mind states, as opposed to identifying with thoughts about the event, creates potential for a different experience altogether.
A curious and friendly attitude helps us to have compassion for ourselves and others, which is the first step towards choosing love over fear, which I think, every moment can be boiled down to one of these two things:
Love or Fear.
Often, we fear that there is not enough, or something is wrong, or something needs to be done. Love, knowing that people who cause suffering do so because they themselves are suffering and you can relate to that, and have compassion for it. This lends itself to feelings of connection, and away from the sense of separateness that fuels many of our problems today. A mindfulness practice can also help us to integrate disowned or disturbing aspects of our selves that contribute to our neuroses and suffering. It is possible to like who we are, and love who we are. Isn’t this our life’s journey? To become the fullest version of our self that we can become? To re-discover and radiate the beauty that is within us all?
So, can you have the experience without getting lost in the story about the experience? Can we begin to notice how our thoughts can rob us of our experience? With a mindfulness practice, the answer is yes. It begins with noticing. It’s not what happens to us, it’s how we relate to what happens to us.