An inspiring yoga class earlier this week that focused on meditation and mindfulness has really helped me stay focused in the moment for many days. It has felt good to feel energetic, yet relaxed, calm, and organized. Reflecting back on this Friday afternoon I realize that I got an awful lot done during this week with less internal stress than usual. Sweet…
So what exactly is “mindfulness?” There is much written about it and many different perspectives to help with the definition and practice.
Here is how Rick Hanson, Ph.D. describes mindfulness. I think he does a nice job of explaining the concept and how it can help us as we go through each day…
1. Mindfulness is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
2. Mindfulness itself is sustained attention to something, typically with some meta-cognitive awareness of the quality of one’s attention. Mindfulness itself is morally neutral. A burglar could be very mindful. If people want, they can add other qualities to mindfulness, such as an attitude of acceptance and friendliness toward the objects of attention, such as toward whatever may pass through the mind.
3. Mindfulness itself does not try to change the objects of attention. But mindfulness is not necessarily the only thing happening in the mind! If one likes, one could add some effort, hopefully wise, to change the objects of attention. A person could be mindful of her stress and negative thoughts for a while; then she could both be mindful and make and effort to shift what is in her mind; finally, she could be mindful of the results in her efforts.
4. As you can see, a certain set of presumptions have grown up around mindfulness in the past few decades that actually are additions to the original idea promoted by the Buddha 2500 years ago. In particular, people talk as if an explicit stance against working with the contents of awareness is an innate feature of mindfulness, and it is not. I recommend reading my paper, The Noble Eightfold Path (Hanson), for more on this.
5. Mindfulness itself is always helpful. And sometimes it is useful for a person to drop any effort to shift the contents of awareness in any direction whatsoever; sometimes this kind of “choice awareness” alone helps negative thoughts release.
6. But often mindfulness alone is not enough. A lot of crud fills the mind, and it persists because the brain is a physical object that does not tend to change unless something changes it (in effect, Newton’s First Law). When you appreciate how embodied we are, and how much the brain is a learning organ that builds structure that maintains unless it is actually changed, you get very interested in effective and efficient effort. Since neurons that fire together wire together, keeping negative material in awareness can actually deepen its hold upon you.
7. In essence, there are two great elements in psychological healing, everyday well being and effectiveness and personal growth and spiritual practice: being with and working with (in Buddhism :Right Mindfulness and Right Effort). These are the two great wings that can help us fly.
Each wing has strengths. And the wings working together — mindfulness improves our efforts and it takes skillful effort to be stably mindful.
Then you can make a free and wise choice, moment by moment, as to what will do the most good for oneself, or one’s client — lean toward pure mindfulness or lean toward mindful efforts. Both are beautiful and help us fly.
Share your thoughts on mindfulness with us…