“To be aware of this whole process of existence, to observe it,
to dispassionately enter into it, and to be free of it, is meditation.”
~ Jiddu Krishnamurti, Book of Life
As mindfulness practice has become some sort of a new life style nowadays, we see the practice being attached to various activities and events. When the word is being very loosely applied to almost anything, it can be rather confusing. Indeed, Mindfulness is a curious something that is rather delicate to describe, especially to those who try to learn about it on a cognitive level.
Nevertheless, there are a few things that Mindfulness is definitely NOT. Below are a few of them.
Mindfulness is Not about being happy-stress-free All the time.
While Mindfulness practices have been found to be significantly beneficial in alleviating stress, it is not about stress reduction. The practice of Mindfulness trains us to accept things as they are, not by changing our thoughts or feelings about a certain thing or occasion, but by not identifying ourselves with any unwelcome thoughts or emotions. Freedom from identification helps us to see the problem for what it is, that we can understand it properly and act from a place of wisdom.
This is the essence of the practice. Stress reduction is a very welcome bonus.
Mindfulness is Not a practice to free the mind from thoughts.
It is not uncommon to perceive mindfulness as a practice where one attempts to empty one’s mind from any thoughts, resulting in blank zombie like state.
Thought formations, mainly our responses to external objects or internal memory, are present almost all the time in the mind. With mindfulness practices, we learn to not react unnecessarily to each and every stimuli. This results in less thought formation, less fluctuations in the mind, a state which is experienced as calmness.
Such state of mind is a result of regular practice. It does not happen overnight, nor does it happen with a simple intention of emptying the mind.
Mindfulness is Not about sitting crossed legged for hours.
Despite sitting meditation being the core practice of Mindfulness, the practice is not only about it. Sitting meditation, when performed regularly and “properly”, would rest the mind. Once the mind is rested, it is still a mindfulness practice as important as sitting meditation to be mindful of our body, breaths, thoughts and feelings as we go around fulfilling our daily activities.
In the midst of challenges and problems, it is also just as important to mindfully choose our actions and actually doing them. Being calm allows us to be more open to different solutions, but it is not the solution in and of itself.
Mindfulness can Not be reduced to being aware or conscious.
We are generally conscious all the time, with objects in mind, unless we are no longer alive, or perhaps, in a coma. In this case, very few people, if not none, can say they are mindful in all their conscious moments. Therefore, Mindfulness is not about being conscious.
Meanwhile, being aware is whenever we are aware of a certain thing, be it sound, sight, smell, taste or sense. Not all these awareness are Mindful awareness. For example, we can be aware that we are planning to harm ourselves or others and proceed on doing it, all the while being aware of doing it. This is not Mindfulness either.
With Mindfulness practice, we learn to be aware of the intention, of the desires or fear or aversion that propel the intention, and not being driven by them.
“Mindfulness requires a thoroughgoing equanimity. This does not mean you don’t care or are indifferent to what is happening, only that the mind is evenly balanced and fully aware of things exactly as they are, without the desire to change them by favouring one thing or opposing another.” ~ Andrew Olendzki PhD, What Mindfulness Is (Not)
Having said all the above, this article does not aim to strictly define Mindfulness. Words, more often than not, have many limitations. Have a go, and define Mindfulness as per your unique first hand experience.