The Mixed Bag of Mindfulness

I do and I don't love mindfulness. Mindfulness means what the word says, being mindful of what goes on. Being aware. People who practice mindfulness quickly realise how unaware they were of what was happening around them before they started noticing things.

Mindfulness is often held to be pretty much synonymous with meditation. People who have never tried meditation often think it carries with it all sorts of lunatic associations about hippies and New Age and navel gazing. There are plenty of fruit loops who do practice meditation, but then there are plenty of fruit loops doing anything you can think of, so it's not a disqualifying thing.

Mindfulness and meditation are really only about paying attention. Learning to pay attention to things. This simple activity, although many find it incredibly difficult, changes lives. It changes not just how your body and mind function, in every way, but how you experience the world. It's now used in psychology and medicine to treat or enhance treatment of a vast range of conditions.

It's about paying attention to what's happening, completely without judgement or trying to change a single thing. That includes your thoughts, one thing meditation teaches you is that the constant stream of thoughts we often think is 'me' is not at all. You can watch your own thoughts, which means they're not you. The same for feelings and emotions, no matter how overwhelmingly strong they may be. You can be 'outside' them and observe them rise and fall. And you don't have to be some grand master meditator to do any of this, you can try this right now. It's what people do when they simply become aware of what's happening each moment - what they're thinking, feeling, hearing, seeing etc.

Being aware like this produces a feeling of intense calm. And if you do it enough you'll find yourself bringing this calm into your life in many ways, and you won't react as much to the difficult events in your life, but instead will find yourself calmly responding instead. Many meditators interpret this as meaning people are accessing some sort of primal mind, but I think it's much more interesting and also much more simple than that. And this is where mindfulness is not so much something I don't like, but something that is maybe a bit narrow.

The thing is that at least some of the time, people have no difficulty at all paying attention. It happens automatically, like when they're watching a TV show they like. Further, generally 'paying attention' is thought of as some deliberate act, instigated by a person - driven from within them in some way, an act of will if you like. Whereas when they're 'glued to the TV' their attention is automatically affixed to what they're watching. They're drawn to the program. When attention is working all by itself, the direction is almost opposite to that act of will - it's like we're sucked into the world by what has 'caught' our attention.

Next time I want to expand upon this a little, to see what happens when you replace attention as an individual act of will, with attention as us being in some way swept away by the world around us.


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