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What Mindfulness Isn’t

It is hard to define exactly what mindfulness is…the more I start to delve more deeply into an understanding of what role mindfulness plays in my own life, the more difficult it is for me to put words to my experience.  Like carving an ice sculpture out of ice, I can start to visualize what mindfulness is, by describing what it isn’t, at least for me.

Mindfulness isn’t a self improvement project.  I think we already have too many of those.  We are always reaching into the future, imagining ourselves happier once we land the new job or lose ten pounds or find more friends.  In our goal oriented society, we are continuously striving for more and better and trying just a little harder.  I don’t think we need any more carrots dangling in front of us.  Mindfulness isn’t about betterment.  Mindfulness is about befriending ourselves, just as we are, in the here and now.  It is about coming to know ourselves in this very moment, and loving what we discover, rather than setting up standards for loving our future shinier, fitter, more accomplished selves.

Mindfulness isn’t boring.  Sometimes we imagine that mindful people are completely equanimous, stable, unreactive…in other words, boring.  That mindful people don’t feel things deeply because they are so unbelievably peaceful and unruffled.  I don’t think this is the case.  Mindfulness is about being aware of the entire spectrum of our emotion and human experience, and feeling our way through all of it.  It is about learning how to tune into the fine details of our internal and external world, taking it all in, from the most simple to the most profound.  I don’t think this is boring…if anything, I think we can start to experience our world in high definition, when we really start to pay attention.

Mindfulness isn’t about being happy all of the time.  I think this is perhaps one of the most common misconceptions about mindfulness out there.  We don’t just get to be selectively attuned to happiness.  Mindfulness is about becoming comfortable with the entire spectrum of our emotional world.  It is about being able to sit with our sadness when we are grieving, our rage when we are angry, our fear when we are anxious.  It is about noticing and riding the smaller waves of disappointment, loneliness, and self consciousness.  This is hard to do, incredibly hard.  But when we stop resisting and fearing the more challenging emotions, we can start to open up parts of ourselves to all that we feel.  We learn that we can be with it all, even though it is hard.

It’s funny, the more I reflect upon mindfulness, or teach it to others, the more I start to lose my hold on what exactly we are talking about.  Is it definable by language?  Or does it simply have to be lived?

In its simplest form, being mindful is about embracing our inner and outer world in a kind, compassionate, non judgmental manner.  It is a quality of awareness–knowing that we are sitting when we are sitting, knowing that we are walking when we are walking, knowing that we are eating when we are eating, and knowing that we are breathing when we are breathing.

But beyond that, I start to realize all of the things that mindfulness is not, and also all of the ways in which it is kind of undefinable…almost just a way of being with ourselves and the world, fully.  The words start to mean less and less, and what matters more is our daily ways of being, deep inside where words can’t quite reach.

So today, and in the week ahead, I invite you to join me in reflecting on what mindfulness is and isn’t, for you.  It is a deeply personal practice.  What words can you find to define the shape of conscious living within your own life and spirit?

With gratitude, Monisha


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