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Monday, April 30, 2012

What is Mindfulness?

What does it mean to be mindful?  What are you to be mindful of?  Does mindfulness mean to be mindful of the mind, of thoughts, of yourself, of others, or what?  And, how does one go about being mindful? 

To be mindful means to live in the moment.  That's it, nothing more.  Be in the moment and enjoy the experience of what is happening right now within and without.  It is being aware of thoughts, emotions, body sensations, and what's going on around you, right now this very moment.  Sounds easy?  Check it out and see for yourself. . . Not easy.  The mechanical mind won't let you.  Thoughts of judging, thoughts of the past, the future, random thoughts, troubling thoughts, and "What if?" thoughts.  All kind of thoughts invade the mind and won't leave you alone for very long.  So, how do you cultivate mindfulness?

Cultivating mindfulness begins with meditation.  Not just any old meditation but mindful meditation.  Sit quietly observing and feeling your breathing - the expansion and contraction of the rib cage and the flow of air in and out. Once you have that mastered you can go to the next step -watching your thoughts come and go as if they were words and pictures floating by.  Don't get caught up in the thoughts but just let them pass in and out of view without giving them a second thought.  These are the first steps in cultivating mindfulness.  This is inward mindfulness.  It is looking inward and noticing the breath, the thoughts, emotions, reactions in the body, discomforts and whatever else is happening in the body.

Next is outward mindfulness - going beyond the body and into more of an awakening to what is happening outside the body.  Being aware of sounds, people, things, smells, and all of your sensory receptions to the immediate environment will broaden your mindfulness.  Practice some loving kindness, turning more toward compassion and consideration for all beings.

Sitting in inward and outward mindfulness is a formal practice that you should practice daily until they become meshed as one experience.  Your informal practice will blossom when you can be mindful during your everyday living.  Being both inward and outward in mindfulness will bring a new meaning to living in this world.

Mindfulness is being aware and open to your experiences.  It is not necessarily about improvement or change but more about becoming more of what you already are.  Being mindful allows you to get away from the mechanical mind and see things as they truly are, seeing each event as if it is occurring for the very first time - living in the moment and realizing everyone is in the same boat.

In a situation that is unnerving, uncomfortable, upsetting or even chaotic see if you can observe the experience without reacting to it.  Reflect on your thoughts and emotions in the moment.  Stop, look, and listen to yourself and what is going on around you.  For example, let's say you are sitting on a park bench when all of a sudden some children start chasing one another around your bench.  They begin shouting and screaming at the top of their lungs.  You feel yourself becoming annoyed and agitated.  But you have remembered to be mindful.  You observe the children and you observe your emotions.  You reflect on your thoughts.  You become the witness of the experience and embrace the situation.  You are right here in the moment witnessing a brand new experience.  You are mindful, at peace and you enjoy the experience.

What would you do if you were confronted with a life or death situation?  In the next post I will discuss the role of mindfulness in dangerous and hostile circumstances.


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