There are many definitions of mindfulness, many of which point to the same essence, and have many of the same components. The definition I work with is the practice of being in the present moment, with both compassion and non-judgmental awareness.
Another helpful definition I’ve read recently is the practice of allowing whatever is present, to be present. What this gets at is how often we aren’t here for whatever is present – whether our experience is unpleasant, pleasant, or neutral.
So, when we’re having difficult emotions like anger, sorrow, resentment, irritation –
We’re often adverse to these feelings and turn away from them. Or when we’re experiencing something pleasant, we’re often scheming about how to keep the experience or get more of it, and not simply enjoying what we have at that moment. Say it’s a sunset we are enjoying: we might wonder when we’ll see another like it, or who we can tell about it, or that awesome sunset we saw last year. And in this way not be totally present to the sunset in front of us, robbing ourselves of the fullness of the experience.
Neutral moments we might not notice at all. Neutral moments are important because when we notice them, we begin to see we aren’t having bad things happen to us all the time, as sometimes it seems when we’re caught in depression, or grief, or maybe caught in cycles of anger, or whatever it may be (for a perfect encapsulation of this, by Mary Jean Irion, go here: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/101242-normal-day-let-me-be-aware-of-the-treasure-you).
Turning back to the first definition I cited: The practice of being in the present moment, with both compassion and non-judgmental awareness.
The word practice is a vital part of mindfulness. Just like we say practicing medicine, or a law; or perhaps, going to soccer practice or softball or band practice; or practicing yoga – just like we practice anything to get better – mindfulness too is a practice. Like anything else, as we practice and notice good results, we want to practice more. And just like the pros still practice, so too, the masters. The practice of mindfulness is a necessity if we wish to further our understanding and abilities to remain in the present moment.
What’s so great about the present moment? And why ever would we want to be with sorrow or irritation or fear?
How many of us miss parts of conversations because our minds have wandered? Or perhaps we’ve been walking in the woods, and we wake up to the fact, we can’t remember the scenery from the last mile? How many things do we miss every day? The smile of a child, a beautiful sky, dogs playing, flowers growing along the road…. With mindfulness, we can begin to wake up to what’s here, all the time if we are aware enough to see it. And why would we want to be with an unpleasant emotion? Because what we resist, persists. Only by working with what’s right here, can we manage to work through it. Mindfulness provides the tools and techniques to do so. And when we are experiencing a beautiful emotion, mindfulness helps us to notice and deepen these experiences, which helps foster these emotions and invite their reoccurrence.
So, the practice of being in the present moment. Which we do with compassion and non-judgmental awareness. We need to be kind to ourselves as we practice, and as many of us know, allowing the self-critic to tell us how we are failing, doesn’t help, and often hurts.
So we practice being in the present moment, with whatever is here. And to do this, we need to be both compassionate with ourselves and others – and for best results, we do this without the judging mind. It’s important that we don’t judge our experience as this compresses us – compresses our ability to be here, just as we are. Thus when we notice we are judging our experience or ourselves or others (as we will), we do not wish to judge the judging. This is where compassion can really be helpful – we can bring kindness to the noticing, kindness to the judging, kindness to the experience.
Mindfulness helps us become aware of our moment to moment experience – whether that’s what’s happening in our minds, or in the world around us. Eventually, with practice, we will become more and more awake to our moment to moment experience and be able to live from a less distracted and less reactive place. In doing so, we can live more often in the freedom of now, instead of the sorrows of the past, the anxieties of the future, or the turmoil of emotions that can arise from our imaginings.
The Buddha said, “I would not teach this if it were not possible.” As a student, I’ve come to know that mindfulness does work, and continues to do so. Am I in the moment all the time? Absolutely not. Which should give hope – I reap the benefits of mindfulness without living awake in many of my moments. You too can reap the benefits; to do so, bring openness, curiosity, the intention to practice, and the discipline to practice. Join me in finding what’s possible.
Looking to learn more about Mindfulness? Register for the upcoming class. Class starts March 20th.