What is Mindfulness?

What does mindfulness really mean? You may wonder. Before we talk more informally about what it really is, lets first visit the formal definition.

There are several formal definitions of mindfulness in use. Though following definition is what general people agree upon.

“Mindfulness is a particular way of paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non judgmentally.”

You may have come across a similar definition. It has four key components.

First of all it is about paying attention.

Second, it is done on purpose. That means there is intentionality.

Third, it is about the present moment. Anyone distinctly familiar with meditation would know that meditation has all to with the present moment. Although at this point you may not be very clear about the connection of meditation with mindfulness. That is something I will cover in the next post.

And fourth component is a non judgmental aspect of it.

Although it is said that mindfulness is a particular way of paying attention, it really is the state that arises out of paying attention in such a way.

Putting all the technical stuff aside, it really is awareness. Mindfulness really means a type of awareness. But not the ordinary awareness that we are all very familiar with. We know awareness very well. We can become aware of many things. We can become aware of facts, we can become aware of things, we can become aware of how we feel. We can also become aware of the fact that we can become aware. We have an awareness of awareness as well! But that’s not pertinent here.

But the mindfulness is not exactly the usual and customary awareness that we are familiar with. Because the  usual awareness that we are familiar with, is usually not free of mind’s judgments. This may not be clear to you at first. What I mean is that whenever you become aware of something, that awareness is immediately followed by likes, dislikes, commentary or some type of judgment about the fact or the object you  became aware of.

To give you an example. If I ask you to become aware of your face, you will have no problem becoming aware of your face right away. But once you become aware of your face, immediately your mind is going to start thinking like, “I don’t like my face”, “My face is too long”, “I don’t like my nose”, “I want my face to be like someone else”. The thoughts that I describe here, don’t come about because of hard contemplative effort that one may put. They come about automatically, pretty much every time you put your attention to any object. Such judgmental thoughts may not automatically happen all the time, but they happen most of the time.

It is the mind’s way of paying attention. In its default mode, it can’t pay attention without coloring the experience with judgmental thoughts. This commentary or judgmental thoughts are so much a part of our experience that we may not even realize that we have those thoughts. We tend to completely internalize them. And that precisely is the reason, this idea of judgmental thoughts may not make a whole lot of sense to you at this point.

I would argue that learning to see, our minds inner working is exactly the process to be undertaken in cultivating mindfulness. If we are able to become familiar with how our mind works at the deepest level, that enables us to see things clearly. Seeing things clearly is the very first step at attaining wisdom and beginning to address life’s difficult circumstances.

And how does one cultivate mindfulness? That is where formal training comes into play. The Portland Mindfulness Center offers classes with the very objective of helping you cultivate mindfulness practice. So that you can avail all the benefits of mindfulness.

As promised, we will talk about the relationship between mindfulness and meditation in one of the next posts.


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