I’ve been pondering lately, what does the word ‘mindfulness’ mean? ‘Mindfulness’ is now mainstream, last year’s Time magazine’s Mindful Revolution cover confirmed it.
What does mindfulness mean to you?
Being aware? Being present? Non-judgmental? Paying attention? Being without thinking?
Thich Nhat Hanh says mindfulness refers to keeping one’s consciousness alive to the present reality.
I like the metaphor of a mind being like a snow globe. Once shaken, the snow flurries and flies around in all directions like the active thoughts in our minds. As the thoughts swirl around, they are playful, creative, and sometimes annoying.
In the snow globe, it takes stillness for the snow to settle. Mindful breathing or meditation can calm and settle the flurrying thoughts. This provides some clarity and allows us to see clearly – both ourselves and the world around us.
It allows us to clearly see who we are and who we are not. We can see what is real and what is solely in our own heads. We can distinguish our personal interpretation of what happened (i.e., ‘our story of it’) from what actually happened or is happening. (As someone said “don’t believe everything you think!”) We become aware of what we’re actually feeling rather than thinking, ‘what should I be feeling?’
It provides the courage to see oneself with all of our smallness and greatness, aliveness and deadness, joys, numbness and sorrow. It gives strength to see and be with our pain and suffering. We can see our potential for good, bad and sleepwalking. It allows us to be able to see all of that in others too.
One thing I don’t like about the snow globe metaphor is that it reminds me how easy it is to use ‘mindfulness’ to create a bubble around my life. The illusion that I can be happy by myself, in isolation, away from others. In reality I know that I am happiest when I feel connected with others. A deep mindfulness practice can help me experience that connection and helps to create the motivation to engage with others.
Jack Petranker calls it ‘active presence.’
“We can only act in the presence, not in the past or the future – choosing how to act in this moment, we also choose who and what we will be.” – Jack Petranker
Here is another definition of ‘mindfulness’ – fearless presence and total involvement… Being there for my life. Being there when life asks the difficult question of me: “What is the meaning of your life?’