Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Mindfulness and a little update

Here is what I wrote about mindfulness five years ago:

Mindfulness everywhere

What is mindfulness, anyway?  Discussions often equate being mindful with being aware.  When you think about it, most everybody is aware of SOMETHING all the time.  Does that mean that most everybody is mindful? No, because the quality meant is something like a second order of awareness.  Not the first level, the road that I am driving on, not the blog post I am writing but more of an awareness of my own mind, what it's doing, what it's feeling while I am driving or writing.

Doubters, scholars, investigators are likely to mentally step behind assertions to ask "Where did this assertion come from?"  Who is the author of this statement? I can think of that sort of source awareness as a form of attention being paid to the background or motives or contributing influences of a statement or source of information.  The Mindfulness Revolution is about similar awareness of and attention to the background of one's mind, one's thoughts and feelings as they occur.

The best known methods for increasing one's awareness of one's own mind are meditation practices.  Focused attention on a given anchor is the crux of most modern, popular methods for increasing one's mindful attention to what a person is doing with her own mind.  Intending to keep one's attention on a given resting point is involved in the practices of many religions. Once I commit myself to five or ten minutes of steady attention to something to look at or listen to or attend to such as my own breathing, I have a way of noting when my attention has slipped off my intended focus.  When I note that my attention has slipped, I bring it back to my focus. As Jack Kornfield notes, the actions and steps involved are very much like house-training a puppy. Keep bringing my attention back, over and over, and pretty soon, I notice more immediately when it has slipped.

The most developed practices, the most extensive discussions and writings about developing and using mindfulness are associated with the Buddhist religion.  But, as Jacob Needleman shows in "Lost Christianity" and the writings of many Sufis and Jewish mystics show, practices that increase one's awareness of what one is doing with one's attention, have been an important part of the practice of many religions, especially among the more devoted adherents and followers.  The idea was probably Hindu before it was anywhere else.

Nowadays, the practice of increasing one's sensitivity to one's own mental workings is being shown to matter in virtually every field of human endeavor.  From medicine/nursing/healing to police training to improving student performance, mindfulness training is everywhere.


Here is a little updating to that post:

It can be helpful for moderns interested in using their minds better to practice 5-10 minutes of steady concentration on a given target, visual or their breath.  Everytime one notices one's attention has slipped from the target, calmly return to the target, the intended focus. Do that daily and notice in a couple of weeks more awareness of what is on the mind.  Better judgment about whether the mind is being used as desired.

It can also be a help to realize that no one can be aware of everything.  There is too much. Movement in the peripheral vision attracts our attention but these days, we don't have to be quite so alert to predators.  No matter what, we can't attend to everything, in the mind or out of it.

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