Mindfulness – I would like to revisit what it is. It is hard to talk about mindfulness in a way that really captures what it actually stands for. Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote a book called: Meditation is not what you think!
Mindfulness is not what you think it is
I love this title because it points at what mindfulness is and is not. You can read the meaning of this title in two ways:
One is: Meditation is not what you think, as in, it is not what you assume it might be.
Here are some false assumption around what meditation and therefore mindfulness is:
- It’s a technique to help me feel better
- It’s a way to stop me thinking
- It’s a way to control my mind
- It’s a tool to make me a better person
- It’s a method to get rid of the thoughts and feelings I don’t like
I say these are false assumptions, but that’s a bit harsh. They are assumptions that are missing the point of what mindfulness is. They do however pointing at what you can be as a result of engaging in mindfulness. It seems a subtle differentiation and you might think I am splitting hairs here, but these subtle differences make all the difference to how we practice mindfulness and how it then feels. The above outcomes are a lot more likely to manifest, if we can engage with mindfulness in a way the second way of reading the title indicates:
Mindfulness is not about thinking
Meditation is not what you think, as in, meditation is not about thinking. So, it’s an activity that is not involving thinking, but crucially it is not about stopping thinking. So what is it about then?
Mindfulness and meditation in general is a way of training your mind and changing your mind. It is a practice of stepping into the present and being willing to encounter and engage with what is happening at this very moment. Engaging with however does not mean thinking about what we encounter, analysing it, or creating a narrative around it. Engaging here means to be open, to accept and embrace what is there and to let go from evaluating. Engaging with means witnessing and observing without judgement. If and when we are able to do this for even a second we experience a shift, a spaciousness appears within us that allows us to just be. This being is not a massive emptiness (though it can be) but full of mind activities like sensing, feeling, and thinking. We are with what our senses bring to us from the outside. We connect with it but we do not fix it, hold onto it or judge it. We are with our emotions, but we are not in them. We are aware that there are thoughts, but we do not follow them and get carried away by them.
Mindfulness is like the ocean
Thoughts, feelings and sense impressions rise and fall like the waves on the surface of an ocean. You are aware of them but you are not pushed this way or that way by them because you are at the bottom of the ocean in your depth and stillness, alert and aware. Being able to do this gives you a different perspective of yourself and life.
Being able to do this takes a lot of practising letting go of our tendency to think, label, evaluate and analyse. We endlessly have to train our mind to stay with what is there and not go off in a tangent. It is hard work that takes dedication, perseverance and tons of compassion and patience. Like going to the gym, we have to keep at it to see results. Most of the time when we practise mindfulness, what we are really doing is working towards being mindful. We have small glimpses, but the majority of our time we are engaged with bringing our mind back to where we want it to be – aware in the present moment with an open heart. Every time we do this we chip away at our brain’s conditioning and create new pathways that overtime strengthen and change the way we are wired up.
The reward of mindfulness
Why bother? Because the reward is invaluable. You can begin to look at yourself, understand yourself more and most importantly accept and embrace yourself more and more – warts and all. You become more peaceful, content and a lover of life, yours and everybody else’s! Mindfulness is an invitation to you to be you fully. It is an invitation to come home to yourself. The world has become a small fragile space. More than ever you are needed in your fullness. Mindfulness is the key to that.
If you enjoyed reading this pass it on to your friends and family.
May you thrive in life!