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Mindfulness Primer part 1

Mindfulness is a term that is being used a lot these days. But what does it mean? To my way of thinking, mindfulness can be thought about in three distinct ways.  

  1. It is an internal capacity,
  2. It is something to practice cultivating,
  3. And, it is a means for enhancing the development of any other capacity, or quality we hope to grow in ourselves.

An Internal Capacity: Mindfulness is a native quality of mind that is aware of what is happening while it's happening. Another way to say this is that mindfulness is the experience of being present for our life. 

Since mindfulness is a native capacity, we most likely can recall times when we were aware, present, and engaged. Many people experience a state of mindfulness when they are exercising, out in nature, playing or listening to music, cooking, etc. We can also notice the qualities of mindfulness when we have a novel experience, like going someplace we have never been before, or when we are surprised by something.

We can further illustrate mindfulness by considering it's opposite, mindlessness. Mindlessness is characterized by a lack of presence, and a quality of automation. We can have a sense of going through the motions. Many of us can relate to the experience of having gotten home in our cars, and not really remembering the experience of getting there.

Something to Practice Cultivating

Like all internal capacities, mindfulness can be deliberately cultivated. The most common way this is taught is through a formal mindfulness meditation practice. This is a very rich activity to pursue, but is essentially setting aside some time on a regular basis to limit distraction, and commit to working with the way our mind attends to the experience of the present moment. In my experience, this is the most straightforward, nitty gritty approach to cultivating mindfulness. You can find a description of how to practice mindfulness in this way in my next blog

That being said, whenever we deliberately choose to pay close attention to what is occurring in our present experience, we are practicing mindfulness. The main point is that how we choose to use our attention matters. This is because our nervous system strengthens itself through repetition. The more distracted and mindless we are, the more likely we will be that way in the future. The more mindful we are, the more likely we will be that way in the future. It is up to us.

A Means for Development

“The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will. No one is compos sui [master of himself] if he have it not. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence. But it is easier to define this ideal than to give practical directions for bringing it about.”                                                                                                                             -William James, Principles of Psychology

Over a century ago, William James who is often known as the "father of american psychology," made the observation that being able to have some control over the quality of our attention is a foundational capacity that impacts everything else we are trying to cultivate. It is an almost comically simple statement; if we want to cultivate anything, we will need to apply close attention. However, most of us are unaware of just how fickle our attention can be, and how challenging it can be to train our attention to reside in the present moment. It follows then that working directly with training our attention, for its own sake, is tremendously valuable. 

A strong focus and attention helps us in all our activities, and in realizing the aspirations for our life.  If this material interests you, I encourage you to get in touch or leave a comment.