Mindfulness is an ancient idea that stems from India’s wisdom traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism. It really began making its way to the West in the 60s. Its popularity has grown so voraciously that today it is an almost unavoidable concept. It can be see on magazine covers, books, TV, it is being taught in places such as schools, the military, businesses, and prisons. But what exactly is it? Simply, it is the idea of being present, conscious, here for your life, that which is happening right here, in the now. It is the act of being conscious of the actions you are currently undertaking or to what is unfolding in the moment before you. Mindfulness is one of the most simple, profound, and important tools in leading a joyful, content life.
The alternative to mindfulness is unconsciousness. That is, the alternative is to live an existence imbued with a sense of zombiefied sleep walking. It could be argued that in certain situations, those that are full of suffering, a mindless, vegetative state of being could be preferable in order to not feel what is occurring so thoroughly. In truth, this is not the case. A mindful state of presence allows you to meet the situation with fortitude, greater capacities of understanding, and increased clarity.
There is a Buddhist saying that “There is one most direct way to overcome sorrow, lamentation, despair, anxiety, and to realize the highest happiness. That is the establishment of mindfulness.” Indeed, modern psychology and neuroscience are showing that this is the case. Experientially, practitioners of mindfulness know that it increases wholesome, expansive states of mind such as joy, love, and generosity and simultaneously decreases unwholesome, contractive states of being such as fear, jealousy, and hatred.
Mindfulness is not a forcing or a coercion of the present moment. It is not an attempt to make the positive happen, nor is it a delusion in which we say to ourselves that all things occurring are joyous. Rather, it is the extremely simple act of seeing things as they are in and of themselves. It is allowing them to be without our unnecessary judgements of positive or negative. It is giving what is happening our purest attention possible, because whatever is happening is worthy of that attention. This moment is in constant flux and, at the deepest, intrinsic level, at the level that exists before our minds form labels and stories around it, is neutral. As such, we can savor that which we label as being positive and those moments we see as unfavorable we can take a more detached look, see a bigger picture, and have a more empowered way of meeting it. The joyous moments take on more joy and the moments of suffering possess less tyranny. Our minds will then become more of a friend as opposed to a jailer.
This necessitates that we are with things as they are without our sense of judgment. However, know that it is natural for your mind to judge and don’t get caught in the trap of judging yourself harshly for judging. Just know and see it for what it is now. Embrace it. This will take practice, but slowly you will start to realize that the mind is out of control and you can stop blaming yourself. Thoughts can then be seen in a more passive frame and not taken personally.