The five basic concepts include (a) present-centered awareness, (b) an open or accepting attitude, (c) a non-judgmental approach, (d) compassion for oneself and others, and (e) the energy of mindfulness. While most people seem to think that mindfulness is a good thing, many people are confused about what exactly mindfulness is. Does it involve emptying the brain of thoughts, inducing relaxation, or going into a trance? Do you have to go live in an ashram and withdraw from the material world to practice it effectively? Is it a type of religion or cult and is it potentially dangerous? In fact, none of the above has been proven to be true. Here are some key concepts that can help clarify what it means to have a conscious attitude to life.
What does it really mean to practice mindfulness? In many ways, mindfulness is such a simple concept that it's disconcertingly difficult to actually understand it, let alone practice it. People who learn to be more aware in their daily lives often report that they feel more present, receptive, and aware of their moment-to-moment experience. There is often a sense of being less “trapped” in one's thoughts, feelings and sensations, and of cultivating an attitude of greater equanimity. Mindfulness involves the ability to observe your own experience without being trapped in assigning judgment to any of them.
It's about cultivating an attitude of active and curious interest in things as they are, without any effort to change or deny them. There is no fear of what may arise in one's experience, nor is there a surprise agitated by the unexpected. Consider how difficult it is, in general, to be impartial about our own experience. It's often much easier to see things “objectively” when reflecting on the situation of a friend or co-worker.
When it comes to “us”, objectivity often disappears out the window. Mindfulness allows us to be more in tune with the inner observer self that we all possess. It allows us to see our own personal thoughts, feelings, and dilemmas as clearly and frankly as we can experience with another person. Another English term for the word sati in Pali (meaning mindfulness) is “pure attention”.
There is no thought or participation in cognitive processes in the way most of us are used to. You don't get stuck in ideas and memories, nor do you feel the need to label or categorize them. It is free to assign meaning and to merge with thoughts and feelings, it is pure consciousness. Through mindfulness, we have the opportunity to experience what it's like to observe all things as if it were the first time.
It allows us to look at the familiar and the unknown with a fresh pair of eyes, amazement and curiosity. It's not “trying to see” or not seeing anything at all. You're not attached to what you “need” or “don't” because you don't have an agenda. Imagine what it would be like to be able to unravel your deep-seated patterns of thinking and feeling in this way.
What can you see that you've never noticed before? This choice to be more present in our lives is a wonderful way to leave behind the feeling of being on “autopilot” experienced by many people in our fast-paced Western society. Rather than living in a mental dream of the past or the future, mindfulness is a tool to bring you back to this moment, to your life. Even though mindfulness rests only on the present moment (which is all it “is”) and doesn't assign judgment to experience, it still realizes the inevitability of change as it occurs. Mindfulness involves observing the natural change of experience and of all of life as you move forward in the present moment.
When you observe how your feelings arise inside you, you feel them at the same time. Mindfulness is not a denial of your experience and a retreat to anything other than detached observation. It is a type of open observation that is experiencing what you are observing. Gunaratana (199) explains: “Mindfulness is objective, but it's not cold or insensitive.
It is the waking experience of life, an alert participation in the ongoing process of life. In Full Catastrophe Living (1990), Jon Kabat-Zinn describes seven specific attitudes that form the basis of mindfulness. They are applied directly, moment by moment and day by day, as you cultivate and deepen mindfulness. These attitudes are non-judgment, patience, beginner's mind, trust, lack of effort, acceptance and abandonment.
Attitudes are mutually supportive and deeply interconnected. Practicing one will lead to the others. Your ability to promote these attitudes in your mindfulness practice will have a lot to do with your long-term success and your ability to calm your anxious mind. In the actual meditation practices you'll learn, you'll revisit them many times and come to understand what vital supports they really are.
With these concepts in mind, you can begin to introduce mindfulness into your own life, either by deliberately directing your attention to your breathing and senses at different times of the day, taking a conscious walk through nature, or starting a simple meditation practice. . .