The goal of mindfulness practice is to allow what is inherent, already here within us, to shine forth, as opposed to creating a “new and improved” version of ourselves. It is not about manipulation, self-improvement or fabricating a special, meditative state of mind. It’s not a matter of reaching a higher consciousness, but rather, letting the mind settle into it’s naturally open and creative state.
Do we bring to our work and to each moment of our lives a sense of being fully present?Are we awake, inquisitive and caring? Or are we sometimes on automatic pilot, just sort of being present, with one foot in the present moment and the other in either the past or future?
Mindfulness practice allows us to recognize that our minds fluctuate, going from hope to fear and back again. And those ups and downs, in some sense, are no big deal. That is simply what our minds do. The important point is that we do not have to be constantly caught in our thoughts. We can be present without having to go through “the middleman” of our thoughts. We can see colours, hear sounds, smell fragrances, taste food, and touch our world directly, without bias, prejudice or judgments. We can listen closely to what other people are saying directly, without needing to think about what they’re saying while they are saying it, and comprehend them much better.
This discursive, chattering mind that we all have has a job. It narrates our experiences, like a narrator in a documentary film. It is constantly trying to figure out what’s going on, whether we like something or not, if our experience is threatening, comforting or boring. The discursive mine is simply one of our human faculties. It’s not a bad thing. It can be a very good thing, actually. But it’s easy to become controlled by it. It is like having a very bossy parent or mate constantly reminding us to be obedient, or telling us what is right and what is wrong and what we must do next.
When the narrator of our inner movie becomes a heavy-handed dictator, we suffer. We lose confidence in our own intelligence and intuition, and start relying on over-bearing, critical voices to direct us. It is a very painful state of mind, and it seems endless. There are endless thoughts possible, endless possibilities of being praised or blamed, and endless interventions to be made demanded by this discursive, critical mind.
Mindfulness practice helps to inject some space between and around our discursive thoughts. The practice naturally slows thoughts down and allows us to “catch our breath.” Our energy, our natural awareness, is free to come to the heart rather than just to the head. This spacious energy can then fill the body with awareness. In this way, each of us can be living in our whole skin. Each one of us is a whole, complete person, with our body, heart and mind well connected, receptive and wakeful. And our thoughts are included in that spaciousness. But they are no longer in command.
The practice is not aimed at trying to stop thinking. We are not programming ourselves, we are not hypnotizing ourselves, there is no mantra or attempt to block thoughts. We are just being present and relaxed…so much so that our thoughts also begin to relax on their own, quite naturally. And our minds appreciate it, by the way. Our minds, after so many years of speeding around, trying to protect us and figure everything out need a break. However, mindfulness practice is not a vacation break in the sense of just letting the mind go wherever it wants to wander. Rather, it is letting the mind seek a deeper, more fundamental level – deeper than the spaced-out, frightened or wishful thinking places our minds often inhabits.
Mindfulness meditation is popular today, and it is used in lots of different contexts and venues. Unfortunately, it has sometimes been presented as an approach to self-improvement. I think approaching mindfulness in this way can be a side-track, even a bit dangerous. Going back to the idea of basic goodness, if we are already unconditionally good, what is there to improve?
We need to find a way to become more vulnerable and more in touch with who we are, with basic goodness. If that’s what we mean by becoming a “better person,” that’s fine. But if we think we need to change who we are, to get rid of our anger or negativity or alter our personality, to become more spiritual or evolved, that is counter-productive. That, again, is giving power back to the “dictator,” only now that dictator, our discursive mind, is armed with the power of mindfulness, too.
The practice involves unmasking, taking off layers, rather than putting on additional layers to make us stronger or better. It is more about making a sane relationship to anger, negativity and confusion, to find a way to work constructively with all life’s challenging aspects, rather than looking for a magic bullet that will change us into someone special and invulnerable.
The goal of mindfulness practice is to allow what is inherent, already here within us, our basic goodness, to shine forth. When the mind is given the freedom to be what it truly is, it becomes naturally joyful, awake, precise and clear. It is also warm, caring and empathetic, interested in what is taking place within us and within other people and situations, looking for ways to be of benefit.