Friday, 22 December 2017

The M-Word

‘Mindfulness’ is a term rich in meaning. Specifically, it can refer to a mental quality, a psychological process or a set of meditative practices. More broadly, it can refer to a cultivation of the mind, an ethical orientation to life or an enquiry into the nature of phenomena.

One possible thread connecting different contemporary usages of the term is: the experience of a sustained, deliberate awareness of the presenting moment – what is actually happening now – that is imbued with an attitude of tenderness and acceptance.

Note there are two elements here. Deliberate awareness of the here-and-now suggests an alert and receptive attention – one that is stable, undistracted and clearly knowing. A tender, accepting attitude implies qualities of patience, non-discrimination and impartiality.

Combined in a dynamic harmony, these two elements foster a presence of mind that is as intimate as it is equanimous, and which is welcoming to whatever is arising, abiding and passing away in the presenting moment. Orientating oneself to ‘given experience’ in this way is to enter fully into the aliveness of the ever-changing now.

The Spaces Between Words

Recently I was listening to a talk about mindfulness by the veteran meditation teacher Christina Feldman. What really struck me was her remarking that she tends to come up with a new working definition for mindfulness every year.

This from a teacher of over 40 years duration –
one who has mentored the most senior mindfulness trainers from the psychology and psychotherapy professions. Her comment says something about how the kind of learning and understanding that comes through practice is never complete and is ever-evolving.

Another implication is that ‘mindfulness’ cannot adequately be confined to, or defined by, a set of words. We can never acquire a fully satisfactory conceptual understanding of it. Indeed, if and when we do pin down what we think we know what mindfulness is – perhaps into a neat and tidy phrase or two – then we run the risk of our practice ossifying.

Of course, there is no shortage of definitions of mindfulness to be found in knowledge sources, both ancient and modern. But mindfulness itself, as a quality of mind, cannot adequately be confined to, or defined by, language.

If you hanker for an exact definition, believing that you will then know the experience of mindfulness, then you’re in good company. It is the nature of the human mind to seek a definitive ‘take’ on something - anything, in fact. Just keep reading this blog for evidence of that!

Mindfulness, though, is best understood through direct experience. So when you notice your mind is on the hunt for conceptual understanding, that is a mindful moment. Everything else is just filler.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Reality Check

In our over-stimulated, highly spun and monetised world, it can be hard to know what’s for real. Whatever ‘mindfulness’ is supposed to be about, it’s not stimulation, spin and money. So how do we sort the wheat from the chaff?

Stress, busyness and distraction are unlikely to aid one’s efforts to seek out what’s nourishing and discard the husks. But mindfulness, if it prizes anything, prizes wise discernment and the importance of knowing for oneself. So try we must.

Paths have a tendency to get overgrown, to get clogged up with detritus and to lose their markings. Inner paths are no different. Knowing when your path is blocked is wisdom in action.

To skilfully engage with struggles and obstacles that you encounter is to learn something important – that they are friendly forces in disguise, indeed opportunities for learning and growth. Trusting this comes with practice.

No Obstructions

For me, the penny really dropped when an experienced meditation teacher told me that 95% of meditation practice is working with the so-called ‘hindrances’ of sensual desire, ill will, restlessness, dullness and drowsiness, and sceptical doubt. Up to that point, I’d thought it was just me.

Since then, I have come to appreciate that the human birthright is to encounter powerful psychological forces that disturb and obscure inner clarity. Encountering these forces is an indication that there is some form of mental grasping at work.

But it is also a sign that the mind is bringing to light an unskilful habit, which softens and releases through awareness, so such moments are an occasion to rejoice. Really!

Vintage Roots

As modern conceptualisations of mindfulness evolve and expand and, occasionally, stretch to the point of near meaninglessness ( mindful mus...