The English word ‘mindfulness’ is a rendering of the ancient Indian term sati (more on that here), which means ‘recollection’. To recollect, expressed in the negative, is to be non-forgetful and non-distracted. The implication is that sati denotes the empowering of qualities of alertness and care.
This is neatly encapsulated in the Buddhist simile of the gatekeeper. A gatekeeper needs to be watchful and diligent in order to do the job. The job here is understood to be ‘guarding’ the mind, that is, being circumspect with what is passing through the mind, what is being constructed in the mind and what the effects of this will be.
Such a gatekeeper is envisioned as a sort of naturally wise, ethically sensitive, health and safety officer, who helps to keep out the foolishness and carelessness we are prone to while granting ready access to all the beneficial and wholesome mental qualities at our disposal.
In Buddhist psychology, conducting one’s life in a resolutely mindful fashion is called appamada, which translates as ‘non-neglect or non-absence of sati’ or, expressed in its positive, ‘heedfulness’. Sati, established as appamada, is understood to have a social as well as an individual value – others necessarily benefit from one’s own practice of mindfulness.
How so? By being aware of one’s motives, thoughts, words and deeds, and their impact of oneself and others, one becomes clearer about what needs to be done, and what should be left undone. That is, one begins to relate to life appropriately by making clear ethical choices. One becomes more ‘response-able’.
Such a comprehensive taking care of life is what links mindfulness organically to friendliness – the willingness to move close to, respect and connect with. Whatever shows up, we breathe with it, respond intentionally, observe what happens, and learn from the experience.