Lately I’ve been noticing that “mindfulness” seems to be everywhere these days –including mainstream news. As the term is bandied about I’m often surprised by where I’m seeing it or who is talking about it, but as I look at much of what is being said, I question how well many people really understand mindfulness.
In many places I see people speaking of it as if it’s only about controlling your mind as an act of will. To me mindfulness is so much more, I feel a little sad every time I see someone settle for such a narrow idea — or for the particularly American tendency to want to control everything, including the mind.
After sitting with a vipassana group for a year I began seeing how many forms of practice there are in which you can quiet your mind into a single focus and achieve more mindfulness: yoga practiced with breath, or yoga nidra when followed with focus, or chanting when concentrating on the words of the chant,or pranayama while noting only the breath, etc. To me the point is using practice to learn how it feels to be in the moment in a state of “empty mind” and peacefulness.
When you keep practicing, your mind starts learning to stay more quiet all the time, the state of calm begins to expand throughout your life, and your whole perspective shifts. It’s so much more than just wrestling my thoughts into submission in a given moment.
When I complete a practice I’m in a space or a zone that has its own feeling tone. I feel it in my heart. I feel the calm throughout my body. I feel in tune with something larger than myself. Tapped into the Universe.
To me, mindfulness is more about surrender than controlling or willing anything. In emptying my mind and flowing with the chant or pose or breath or silence, I let go of managing and fall into what Wayne Dyer called “the gap”. Over time I also learned surrender involves letting the practices take me wherever they lead.
Plans have gone awry and life has unfolded in ways that would never have crossed my mind if I’d kept trying to follow a blueprint designed long ago. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s scary. I wouldn’t change any of it. I like the person I’m becoming. The change from being mercurial to finding equanimity, from neurotic to peaceful, from anxious to calm…
The quiet mind achieved in mindfulness practices doesn’t involve controlling thoughts. It’s a space encompassing the moment and peace and higher consciousness. With practice the space begins to fill life more and more with presence in the moment. From that place of presence, you can choose to hold onto a thought or let it go.
But you don’t learn true mindfulness if you just try to force your mind regularly to moments when you pick different thoughts. You’re missing so much if you don’t let yourself be taken to the place where mindfulness is a way of being present, calm, connected and new.