Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the practice of resting your awareness on your moment-to-moment experience, without judgment. It involves being present, rather than absent or distracted, and open to the current situation just as it is. 

This may sound simple and even inconsequential, but it's actually a radical thing to do because most of the time your mind is focused on the past or the future or on judgments and commentaries about the moment, rather than on the moment itself. For example, "I don't like this, it shouldn't be happening," or "What's wrong with me? I should be smarter, thinner, more successful." In fact, we're constantly arguing with reality and with ourselves, trying to get everything to be different from the way it is. The weather is always too hot or too cold, the food forever too spicy or not spicy enough, other drivers are perpetually too fast or too slow, other people too arrogant or too inept, and we're never quite good enough in any way. 

Have you ever noticed how little time you spend actually letting things as they are? Well, mindfulness is an invitation to do just that. Of course, you have your cherished preferences, we all do, and mindfulness doesn't require you to relinquish them. But every now and then you can stop, breathe, and just let things be, without resistance. You might actually enjoy this practice so much that you start making a habit of it. 

As young children, we're open without expectation to what life has to offer. Because we don't know what's about to happen next, we're constantly experiencing each moment afresh— a quality called beginner's mind. As a result, we spend most of our time in a state of wonder, gratitude, and joy— punctuated by the occasional temper tantrum or tearful meltdown, of course. In fact, happiness, wonder, gratitude, and joy are our natural states of being, our birthright as human beings, which we see reflected back to us in the innocence of a child. But we lose touch with these natural qualities as our minds develop and accumulate more beliefs, judgments, expectations, and preconceptions about how life should be and other people should act. 

As adults, we live not in wonder but in expectation and disappointment, hoping for the best and fearing the worst, and we don't allow ourselves to experience life just as it is. As a result, we feel a constant sense of hunger, lack, and insufficiency, and we perpetually try to fill the hole we feel inside with things, experiences, people, accomplishments, substances. But we never achieve the satisfaction we crave because what we're truly hungering for is the direct experience of being itself, free of our concepts and preconceptions. The only way to provide it is through the practice of mindfulness— being present right now for our experience as it is. This direct experiencing, this intimacy with what is, provides fertile ground in which our inherent joy can grow and flower. 

Mindfulness reconnects us with the simple joy of being alive. Now, concentrating on a project at work or entering the zone in a sport isn’t necessarily mindfulness— it may merely be a form of conventional attention. For example, your laser-like focus at your computer may be purely mental and exclude the sensate dimension, and your immersion in tennis or skiing may bypass a more grounded, present-centered awareness. 

Mindfulness has a quality of relaxed, receptive openness that ordinary concentration may lack. This receptivity is crucial because it opens you to the possibility of just being, rather than constantly doing, and aligns you with the natural current of life. When practiced properly, mindfulness creates a self-aware inner spaciousness that welcomes thoughts, feelings, and other experiences just as they are and allows us to respond to life with balance and attunement, rather than reacting. This inner spaciousness is what confers on mindfulness its healing, stress-reducing power. 

As your mindfulness develops and deepens, and being present and open becomes an accustomed way of moving through the world, you develop the essential quality of presence itself. Have you ever been struck by someone who just exuded the sense of being here, embodied, open, connected, and available? This is what presence feels like. You may not notice it as it grows in you, but the people close to you will, because we crave presence in our relationships as reliably as we crave air or food. Steady presence, which mindfulness cultivates, is precious nourishment for the growing child and an essential ingredient in a healthy, mutually fulfilling relationship.