To understand Mindful Living one must first ask, “What is mindfulness?”
Mindfulness is often translated to simply mean “awareness”. But this is an oversimplification which loses the true essence of mind-fulness, and as such is not only inadequate, but misleading as well.
A more accurate description of mindfulness would be: “the ATTENTIVE awareness of any given moment.”
There is a very fundamental difference between the two definitions above as this example illustrates: I am aware, on some level, that I am breathing, but I may not be consciously and attentively aware of my breath moving in and out of my body. If I were truly mindful of my breathing, I would consciously feel the sensations of the body as it expands and contracts. I would be aware of the coolness of my breath entering my body and the warmth of my breath as it leaves. I would notice the smell of the air as I breathe it in, along with a host of other experienced details.
To delve deeper into the true meaning of mindfulness, one must add to the above description. For in the state of mindfulness, one acts as a witness or observer to thoughts, beliefs, emotional states, and sensory experiences. Therefore, mindfulness is a state in which one experientially recognizes that one is not the mind nor the brain nor the body.
A State Without Bias
Mindfulness is a state without bias. It is a state in which one accepts all possibilities. There is no censorship of the moment, for the observer does not evaluate, judge, or intentionally seek to change the moment. And as one attentively watches the moment without judgement, the moment is reflected back without distortion, clearly and simply.
In the state of mindfulness, the observer does not reach into the past for comparisons to the moment, nor does it reach forward into the future seeking possible consequences or meaning to the moment. The past and the future are aspects of the mind and do not exist. The mindful observer sees only what exists, this moment, as if it were the first and only moment.
The Beginning of Mindfulness
The idea of mindfulness is introduced to most as a meditative exercise. Seated on a cushion watching the flow of breath, or purposefully walking while observing the inner and outer world, Mindfulness Meditation is a powerful tool meant to help release mental concepts and judgements. It helps to reveal life in its true form, without a preconceived and limiting framework.
A New Awareness
The consistent practice of mindfulness meditation changes one’s answer to the fundamental question of “Who am I?” Practice in the state of the observer shows one, through experience, that one is not the mind, the emotional states, or the sensory experiences.
This new awareness of who or what one is not, frees one to stand outside the push and pull of these very changeable aspects of consciousness. Grounded in the state of the observer, one is more able to make grounded and conscious choices. The experience of this can be likened to sitting in the eye of a storm: very much aware of the churning of the storm, yet calmly unaffected by it’s turmoil.
From Meditation to Mindful Living
Once introduced to mindfulness in its formal meditative form, Mindful Living then becomes the goal. Here, one works to move attentive awareness into ordinary daily activities such as eating, bathing, listening to music, etc.
Mindful Living introduces a heightened sense of being alive as the practitioner becomes more consciously aware of sensory experiences and passing emotional states. Sounds, sights, smells, and tastes become crisper and more striking as the dust of habitual living falls away.
Mindful Living, one could say, is the art of truly being alive.
This article was originally published in the November – December 2007 issue of The Yogic Way® Magazine.