What Mindfulness Is Not

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.

portrait-317041 - Image by 192635 at Pixabay
Image by User 192635 at Pixabay

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.

Pimpinan Berkesadaran

Pemimpin Berkesadaran tidak memimpin
Ia adalah katalis.
Katalis yang menumbuhkan kesadaran
Bagi diri, bagi yang lain.

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Photo credit: Markus Spiske at Unsplash

Ia berlatih sadar bahwa semua bisa saja berangkat dari saya, diri
Ia berlatih sadar bahwa semua bisa saja menuju bagi mereka, diri yang lain
Ia berlatih sadar bahwa saya dan mereka adalah selalu kita

Pemimpin Berkesadaran berbagi melalui keteladanan, tanpa perlu menjadi Sang Teladan
Pemimpin Berkesadaran bercerita melalui cerita diri, tanpa perlu dibuat-buat.

Pemimpin Berkesadaran menyiapkan dan menjalani sistem operasi organisasi
Semata untuk pembelajaran
Bukan untuk menjadi mekanistis
Bukan untuk menjadi otomatis
Bukan untuk menjadi kemelekatan
Pembelajaran yang selalu berubah, sesuai konteks, sesuai yang disadari.

Pemimpin Berkesadaran senantiasa menjalani paradoks.
Ia nyaman mengukur, dan juga jernih merasa
Ia tenteram berpikir, dan juga damai menerima intuisi
Ia bersegera aktif melakukan, dan juga rileks pasif melalukan

Pemimpin Berkesadaran senantiasa menyadari batas ego
Menyadari apakah masih berupaya, atau sudah mengharuskan
Menyadari apakah masih berserah, atau sudah bermalasan
Menyadari apakah ini perlu, atau ini ingin

Pemimpin Berkesadaran senantiasa menjalani
Perjalanan yang berisi latihan yang tak pernah usai
Perjalanan untuk mengasah batas ego yang tak pernah tuntas
Perjalanan untuk menjalani paradoks yang tak pernah selesai

Pemimpin Berkesadaran sadar bahwa Berkesadaran adalah perjalanan.
Ia adalah perjalanan yang sunyi, karena setiap orang unik
Ia adalah perjalanan bersama, karena setiap orang berkelindan dengan yang lainnya.

Kontemplasi Kami ~

Satu

Ketika kita makan,
sadarkah bahwa yang kita makan
ikhlas bersatu dengan kita?
rela menjadi bagian tumbuh kembang kita?

Satu

Ketika kita memandang,
sadarkah bahwa yang kita amati
ikhlas bersatu dengan kita?
menumbuhkan inspirasi
ataupun menjadi pengingat jiwa

Ketika kita berinteraksi
sadarkah bahwa yang kita temui
ikhlas memberi ilmu bagi kita
tidak selalu dalam ceria
namun senantiasa memberi makna

Ketika kita bernafas
sadarkah bahwa yang kita hirup
ikhlas memberi kita hidup

Ketika kita hidup
semuanya ikhlas menyatu ke dalam kita

~ Kontemplasi Kami ~

All It Takes

“How am I to transform? I see the truth – at least, I see something in it – that a change, a transformation, must begin at a level that the mind, as the conscious or the unconscious, cannot reach, because my consciousness as a whole is conditioned.” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

 

dandelion by Monsterkoi
Picture by Tom (monsterkoi) at Pixabay

Inspired by a few Earth Day initiatives, I once started this project of reducing tissue consumption, simply because I have done plastic on daily basis for a few years now. Reminded of a TED Talk by Joe Smith (“How to use one paper towel”), which I have been practising ever since I watched the talk, it seems to be interesting to extend the practice to other types of tissue and paper.

So the mind began with trying to exactly measure the current tissue consumption, observing the process to find any non-value added use of tissue, and then trying to measure the right quantity that is necessary for each activity. Complicated, that is just how the thinking mind is, as it always runs with assumptions and frameworks. In this case, the mind assumed that there must be a certain perfect formula just like the one for paper towel and it operated under continuous improvement based framework.

It did not get me anywhere.

Until I noticed that as I observed myself taking any tissue or paper towel, the amount that I threw away after use was noticeably less than when I took the paper in a rush or absent mindedly. After a while, I decided to stop trying to figure the perfect practice. This self observation, which is actually one of mindfulness qualities, is sufficient in reducing waste.

“We’re always fixing things, aren’t we? It never strikes us that things don’t need to be fixed. They really don’t. This is a great illumination. They need to be understood. If you understood them, they’d change.” ~ Anthony de Mello

Then I went for one week mindfulness retreat in this really cool facility that allows for no unorganic waste to be left behind in the compound. If we produce ANY unorganic waste, we have to bring them home. And yes, this includes any plastic wraps, bottle, tissue and paper towels.

So I went there with a few big waste plastic bag ready, thinking that no way I could abruptly adopt a lifestyle with so little one-time use things the way it used to be decades ago. Also, retreat is for the so-called “real” practice, I did not wish to trouble myself with any inconveniences that would deter my practice. In other words, I was ready to litter.

Astoundingly, I went home with barely a quarter of small waste plastic bag filled in, and it was not inconvenient, nor did it feel primitive at all. In fact, the lifestyle felt no less natural than breathing when we practice mindfulness in each step, each movement, each breath, in every single task, no matter how simple or unimportant or mundane the task may seem to be. It appears to be easily translated into very little waste.

Since this was so easy, I was easily convinced that I could be just a good friend to the earth as I had been from then on, only to find that being at home, my trash bin quickly fills and I empty my box of tissue just as quickly. How so?

One main variable was the availability of things that could easily turn into waste. This is perhaps one of the few occasions where we find scarcity highly beneficial. The Retreat centre simply did not use nor provide anything that is of single use or non-recyclable. While I have quite a few in my bag, the fact that it was not readily available simplifies our struggle to use less, and because we were mindful, it was effortless not to complain as we easily turned to what is available.

Then, there was hardly any trash bins in the compound that we do not get to see anyone putting anything into trash bins and I recognize the use of clothes instead of tissues every now and then. The only two trash bins within sight are almost empty throughout. Given that human brain is designed to mirror our environment, we tend to behave the way others do. As individuals, each of us endlessly copies and reinforces our behaviours to one another.

In this case, it is easy to reduce our consumption when everyone else does. Removed from such environment, we have to perpetually battle our nature to mimic those around us.

Above all that, most essential is the fact that we were all there to practice mindfulness, being aware of our actions and thoughts from moment to moment. If being Mindful on some trivial moments is already beneficial in reducing tissue consumption without any other active effort, the same applies on a bigger scale during moment to moment mindfulness.

Now imagine applying this to more people working together in an organisation set-up, that is, mindful people working together in a mindful way, with a few mindful ‘conditioning’. CSR would no longer be in constant conflict with shareholders interests. Green marketing would not be a me-too movement under social pressure, but an automatic gesture as a result of Mindful thinking behind every action. We all would have less recycling to do because each of us optimize our consumption and thus the most important link of the reduce-reuse-recycle happens most of the time. The remaining resources, or money, can be allocated for many other things. If people end up using less of our products, they will have more money for the extra frills and services, providing we know what to offer and why we offer them. Everyone will end up happier.

How do we make that happen? Nothing sophisticated, one Mindful breath at a time, one Mindful action at a time, and one Mindful conversation at a time.

That is all it takes, no more, no less.

“I am done with great things and big plans, great institutions and big successes. I am for those tiny, invisible loving human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which, if given time, will rend the hardest monuments of human pride.”

~ William James

~ Our Contemplations~

Meditation, A Journey Home

“Depression is a common illness worldwide, with an estimated 350 million people affected.” ~ World Health Organization Fact Sheet, April 2016

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Picture by francinjapan at Pixabay

Over the years, studies have been conducted over benefits of meditation and how it works. Most often cited benefits are related to the areas of stress management, self control and concentration. There is an article in Forbes by Alice Walton (2015), which neatly summarized various distinct researches on how meditation affects our brain. There listed a few interesting conclusions from the studies. Meditation was said to help preserve the aging brain, has effects rival antidepressants for depression, decrease volume of brain cells known to be responsible for fear, anxiety and stress, can help with addiction, and it helps kids in school.

These well meaning publications benefit many by raising their awareness and interests in the practice. But as wisely concluded in the article, meditation is not panacea.

This is an important statement for two main reasons.

One of the reasons being, meditation is a long journey. It is not something that we practice overnight and then it washes all our stresses away. In the world where people expect everything to be straight forward and instant, this can be disappointing. Then, all the appealing benefits are not the utmost outcome of meditation. While it is a simple practice, how it works is never that straight forward.

It is perhaps acceptable to assume that most people relate the word meditate to an image of someone sitting crossed legged with eyes closed in deep concentration. This image is often used to represent peace and calm. So much so that recently I was informed of a newly open premium resort and spa with cozy meditation room as part of the facility. There was a person sitting crossed legged depicted in their communication materials. In other words, peace and calm equals meditation equals sitting cross legged.

Meanwhile, the same practice has also been introduced into corporations as an aid to perform your duties more efficiently with less stress, perhaps your key to success. Busy and ambitious corporate world, peace and relaxing calm of resort and spa, seemingly rather on one end to another of a spectrum, both claim to practice and benefit from meditation. Can it be so? Yes, perhaps. Maybe not.

The thing is, meditation has become a word very loosely applied everywhere. The meditation practice a hermit does in the Himalayan mountains can be very much different from the short session offered in a cozy set up with soft comfortable cushion, soothing smell of incense and calming music in the background. The well intended spirit of bringing the practice into daily life, or the so-called “off the cushion” practice, has turned almost literally everything into meditation. While it truly is, and we shall talk a bit more on this some other time, the idea can be a little confusing.

So what IS meditation? One of the most amusing questions that not only a few people ask when I told them I just returned from one week meditation retreat (or that I practice Yoga) is – “SO, you can levitate?” What and how exactly I was expected to respond is still a mystery to me. Maybe I should seriously confirm so and see what happens.

“I have been a seeker and I still am, but I stopped asking the books and the stars. I started listening to the teaching of my Soul.” ~ Rumi

This is how I would define meditation, regardless of the actual actions that are referred to as meditation; the art of listening to ourselves, to the incessant chatter in our heads, drowning waves of emotions and somewhere some time, the peaceful silence within. Being able to listen to ourselves is a useful skill, from which we would understand what is happening within this existence we casually refer to as ourselves.

“Meditation is putting aside altogether everything that man has conceived of himself and the world.” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

In listening to myself, I discovered that everything I see, I see it through frames. These frames were planted in our minds through our ability to perceive and remember. All our previous experiences, habits and norms imposed on us, all these forms solid frames. Trouble is, more often than not, the lenses were either distorted or unclean so we do not see things the way they are. And that includes the way we see others and ourselves. How often do we take ourselves as the wrecked person inside our heads, which we relentlessly try to get rid of? Are we really all that noise in our heads? Or are we really the exterior that we see, nurture and entertain all the time? What about the idea that we are neither?

“Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.” ~ Bell Hooks

Habits are usually acted upon without us being aware that we are doing it. It becomes natural and it has become natural for us to distract ourselves all the time. Our gadgets and other electronic devices certainly play a big part in this habit. What happen when we disconnect ourselves from everything and everyone to simply be with ourselves? We start listening to the voices within and learn to be in peace with it. This is the first step in alleviating ourselves from the subtle constant unease of wanting to be anywhere but here, to be with anyone else but oneself. We learn to be content and cease looking outwards to escape from our very selves, from whatever is at any given moment.

There is a saying that I really like:

“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” ~ old Zen saying

Seriously, 20 minutes? Surely, in the beginning it can be very challenging to this mind to sit still with something as boring as breaths. A widely used term to describe this restless nature of mind is ‘monkey mind’, indicating how the mind incessantly jumps from one thing to another, all the time. An old friend of mine prefers to see it as puppies instead of monkey. With no particular reasons, I am with him. It is easier to see the mind as restless puppies (than monkey), which just need a bit of watching until they get tired and then decide to rest.

That is exactly why the Zen saying proposed an hour if we are too busy. The busier we are, the more excited the mind become, the more restless the puppies are. It would take longer for the mind to finally give it a rest and begin to settle into the moment. As the mind settles, perhaps, we would stumble into something grander than the mundane, something unknown to this busy limited mind. Otherwise, it is a beautiful practice nonetheless.

A pleasant walk, a journey home….

The birds have vanished down the sky.
Now the last cloud drains away
We sit together, the mountain and I,
Until only the mountain remains.

~ Li Po

Our Contemplations ~