Mindful living is to live in a way where we are more deeply aware or attuned to the way we think, feel and behave. It is to see more clearly how we react and respond to the world and all that we engage with. It is to see the internal interactions between our thoughts, emotions, feelings and our body. In living mindfully, we become more awake to the interplay of all the aspects of existence.
In developing and cultivating this skill, this art of living more mindfully, we engage more fully with life, more rewardingly, more genuinely and authentically. We find that happiness, fulfilment, contentment, peace, etc can be enriched. We can also discover ways of letting go of the difficult, problematic aspects of our lives and find that unhappiness, distress, emotional pain and suffering can be eased.
This letting go of distress and the causes of distress is a key feature of mindful living. It relies on our learning how to see more clearly what is actually going on for us. To see more deeply into the reality of our lives. Seeing with greater clarity is the essential first step to change. In becoming more aware of ‘what is’, we can bring curiosity and enquiry to understand why things are the way they seem to be.
In seeing more clearly and understanding more deeply, we have the option of doing things differently. Of letting go of the sources and causes of pain and suffering. Of engaging more deeply with sources and causes of happiness and fulfilment. Of living a life with greater insight, characterised by kindness, compassion, joy and resilience.
So if ‘seeing’ more clearly is an essential step on the path to mindful living, how do we learn how to do that? An effective way is to develop a meditation practice.
Mindful meditation is a particular type of meditation that sharpens our concentration and awareness. It’s not about relaxation or states of bliss (though these can occur). It aims to improve the ability to see more clearly our experience of our inner world (body, thoughts, feelings, emotions) and the interplay of that with the outer world (everything outside of us).
We learn to become more mindful by focusing our attention on one aspect of our experience and noticing when it has shifted somewhere else. It’s as simple as that.
However, this is not something we often do. We are only rarely aware of our awareness. Of bringing our attention to where our attention happens to be. Yet this is fundamental to mindful living – of living our lives and in parallel, being aware at a deep penetrating level of the way we are living our lives.
In formal meditation the aspect of our experience often chosen is the breath. The experience of breathing. Formal mediation often takes the form of sitting in a comfortable position somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed. On a chair or meditation cushion or stool. Eyes usually closed, feet flat on the floor, hands resting on lap. Sitting upright in a dignified position, your back usually a few cm away from the chair.
But there is also informal meditation and many aspects of living can be included here. Walking, gardening, washing up, driving, preparing food, eating, having a shower, stroking a pet, waiting for a train/plane/bus or our PC to boot up…the key to informal meditation is to do one thing and do it fully e.g. When eating meditatively, just eat (no TV, music, mobile phone or other draw on attention).
So, with formal and informal meditation we have chosen a particular aspect of experience to focus on, to bring our attention to e.g. breathing. We concentrate and bring our awareness to that experience as best we can. We have chosen it as our ‘anchor’, our reference point for this particular meditation.
But what will happen is that our attention will move. It will shift to something else. It always does – even for those who have been meditating for very many years. It’s the nature of the mind. It will shift mostly without us being aware of it shifting.
At some point we become aware of our attention being somewhere other than our breathing (or walking, eating, etc). We notice we are thinking or sensing or feeling. This is a moment of mindfulness. We notice what we are experiencing as we are experiencing it. This is the skill we are enhancing. This is mindfulness.
Mindfulness is not just the awareness of breathing, walking, eating, etc. It’s the awareness of the arising of experiential phenomena such as thoughts, emotions, feelings and bodily sensations – as they happen.
In that mindful moment, when we have noticed our mind is somewhere other than our anchor (e.g. our breath), we acknowledge what we have noticed then gently bring our attention, our awareness, back to our chosen meditation anchor. We consciously refocus on the act of breathing (or walking, eating, etc) knowing that at some point it will move again. Giving us the opportunity for another mindful moment… and another and another.
With practice, these mindful moments become more commonplace and can enable us to see the linkages between these phenomena and how the outer world affects us.
We become more able to see our habitual, reactive ways of being. How the past has conditioned and shaped the way we think, feel and behave. We can see the way our view of the future, our fears and concerns, affect us in the present.
We can see how our way of being is influenced by a vast range of factors including culture, social norms, family history, genetics, work, personal experience and traumatic events.
We can see the impermanent, transient nature of thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. We can see the interconnectedness of everything and the uncertainly associated with that.
We have the opportunity to see life as it truly is and to learn how to respond in new ways that ease the pain and suffering of ourselves and others and increase happiness and peace.
© Gary Fielder 2019