Our culture has taken a real interest in all things spiritual. Eveywhere I look, I can find someone meditating, doing yoga, chanting or promoting something with one of the spiritual arts. I think it’s great that we’ve embraced spirituality in our culture, but mindfulness is different from just “leading a spiritual life.” It’s not so much about “being” spiritual, as it is being present to our lives.
When we are truly present to our lives, we’re aware of our minds and what thoughts they produce. As our actions and behaviors are based on our thoughts, being mindful is not about doing anything special. Mindfulness is about waking up to what is already going on. We don’t need to add anything to our “selves” to be more mindful. We don’t need to spend a lot of money, or enroll in another training program to give us more information. If we are still, and present, we can start to wake up to that which is right under our noses.
Because mindfulness is about being present to what is happening in the now, like Eckhart Tolle says, it’s a “no-brainer”. No brainer in the sense that it doesn’t need our brains to intervene and do anything special. We don’t need to think about, or conceptualize, anything new. Mindfulness is not another concept; it is a direct experience of our awareness, which encompasses our thinking minds. It is greater than our thought process.
Experiencing that presence, we lose the reliance on our thoughts, which is good because we tend to put much stock in them to fix or solve problems that we can’t seem to shuck. I know for me, out of that still place, answers can come forth when my mind is settled down and not as chaotic. The problems that we create are a function of that chaotic mind. The Buddhists call this “monkey mind”, which leaves us prone to confusion, fear, anger, and a host of other problems and negative experiences.
Starting with the breath, being mindful is a matter of experiencing the joy of the present moment. It is about being in your life, not thinking about it or losing yourself in thought patterns about the world. It is a direct experience of life, which is beyond mind and beyond the concepts that we frame the world around.
Another entry point is the body. Experiencing negative feelings in the body, say in the heart, stomach or chest region, is a way to be present to what is. A lot of the time, we avoid the painful emotions and feelings that reside in the body and flee to our minds, where we try to work it out “rationally”. This can be difficult to do, because the mind is responsible for those problems initially.
Relationships are the ultimate awareness experiences, because if we can see our partner as a mirror to our own experiences, and if we can summon the courage to walk through the fire, we can achieve awareness and clarity about the problems we bring into our lives.