What is Mindfulness?
This is what I call being "in the moment." My little boy is so enthralled in his game of peekaboo that he has forgotten everything and everyone around him. Children know how to do that very well. Is this the same thing as mindfulness? Not quite. Mindfulness is not forgetting everything around you, but rather being exceedingly aware of everything around you without letting it distract, distress, or detract from whatever it is you are doing. You are one with the universe. You merge with all of the thoughts, sounds, etc. In other words, when you let yourself become distracted by them, you are essentially separating yourself from the rest of the world, from all those sounds, thoughts, etc. When, instead, you allow your thoughts to come and go without becoming enthralled in them, you practice mindfulness.
It is not so easy to become mindful. Can you think of a situation where you were in a complete state of mindfulness? Knitting? Jogging? And of course the obvious one: meditating? Do we really need to achieve mindfulness? And can we even achieve it in this modern, chaotic, and very distractable world?
Mindfulness. We hear this word quite often. Personally, when I hear it, I tend to think of turban-wearing, beard growing, Indian-style sitting old men who live in caves somewhere in Asian mountains. What mindfulness really means is - boiled down to a single word - awareness. The Sanskrit word is "smrti" (try to pronounce that!), and literally means "awareness". Ok, so what is awareness, you ask? The dictionary says it means "the state or condition of being aware; having knowledge; consciousness (Dictionary.com, 2012). The Buddha said that being in a perfect state of mindfulness, every day, would bring about a calm awareness of one's bodily functions, sensations, objects of consciousness and consciousness itself (Wynne, 2007). In other words, if we practice mindfulness we will by definition become more aware of our bodies, emotions, thoughts and a better sense of self. I've already given you a Buddhist explanation. Are there others? Of course! There are Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Baha'i, Shamanic--you name it--writings on mindfulness. The Hindu word for mindful is "savadhan", meaning thoughtful, careful, attentive, and vigilant (HinKhoj Dictionary, 2012). The Islamic definition is based on a Sufi definition, which means "reflection upon the universe" (Kalifa, Rashad, 2001). Christians like to understand mindfulness as connecting with God. In other words, Christian mindfulness is to actively put your mind on God, focus and re-focus your mind on God. While Buddhist mindfulness is more about detaching oneself from the senses and outer world. God, per se, is inside of us.
You might be asking yourself, "So, what? Why do we need to become more aware of ourselves? Aren't we all horribly self-centered these days to begin with"? Not so fast, cowboy. I'd venture to say that we are all so intensely distracted by so many things these days that we are, in fact, not at all self-centered. It is this LACK of self-centeredness that causes us to behave in ways that seem selfish, egotistical, inconsiderate, and--ahem--unaware of our own real needs. By needs, I do not mean the latest pair of Manolo Blahniks, the nicest Weber grill on the market, or even a trip to the hairdresser to dye our gray roots, although those things are certainly nice to have and--judging from my reflection in the mirror, I could stand to do the latter. But I digress. Mindfulness. What the heck is mindfulness? What is it good for?
If we develop a daily, regular practice of mindfulness, then we live our lives consciously, sensitively, and dare I say, spiritually fulfilled. I like the sounds of that, to be quite honest. And just so you know, I don’t mean that we should live in a cave; we should live our lives certainly with passion and pleasure, but live it in a way that benefits mankind, and in a way that is able to sustain us as individuals. In other words, living mindfully can help us deal with everyday modern stresses, while still being productive, innovative and fulfilled human beings. And how bout this: we will also be helping others and our planet! It’s the best of both worlds.
Alexander Wynne, The origin of Buddhist meditation. Routledge, 2007, page 73.
Khalifa, Rashad (2001). Quran: The Final Testament. Universal Unity. pp. 536. ISBN 1-881893-05-7.