You hear me say (or write) variations of this quite frequently but what is mindfulness really? While there are thousands of studies quantifying the beneficial impacts that mindfulness has on the physical and mental body, work productivity, concentration, relationships of all kinds, and overall health, and while we cognitively understand mindfulness to be present to this moment, again, what is it really?
Stepping away from the view that it is a tool that will help us achieve greater goodness, we must, if we are to truly understand mindfulness, realize first and foremost that it’s an embodied practice. It is a state of being, not a performance enhancement too or a therapeutic technique.
Recently I spent six days at Blue Cliff Monastery in New York with 400+ practitioners living as many moments as we were able to in mindfulness. I say “as many as” since, no matter the strength of our practice, there seems to be an ebb and flow in and out of this practice of presence. “The Miracle of Mindfulness” was the retreat’s theme, celebrating the publication of this titled book by my teacher and Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh 40 years earlier. Out of the 400 retreatants, about one-third were brand new to a retreat in the Plum Village tradition, a tradition which emphasizes integrating mindfulness into everyday normal activities and occurrences. Each moment of life is an opportunity and a gift so why not show up and be more fully aware of them?
The retreat day begins and ends in silence - an opportunity to connect with the voice inside - and in between we are fed with nurturing practices such as mindful meals, sitting and walking meditation, working meditation, Dharma talks (teachings), and sharing from the heart. Each step along the way is an opportunity to recognize our wholesome and unwholesome mental formations (ideas, thoughts, judgments, labels), i.e. discursions that typically hold us back from an open view of possibility. As we mostly seeking to control and reformulate our surroundings, there’s a continual backdrop of mind chatter that works to unconsciously sort and categorize our experiences, pulling or pushing our mental and physical resources into all sorts of directions in an attempt to make life more to our liking. In the retreat setting we are gifted with a slower pace, making it easier to notice this habituated mind activity and to create attitudes of openness and curiosity, awakening us to the many details we miss as we busily go about our day. We have an opportunity to notice our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sensations of all kinds, all aspects of ourselves that are lost in the commotion of mind and body multitasking.
There is so much depth to the simplest of things - drinking tea or coffee, walking, bathing, picking up things, noticing a landscape, eating chocolate. How is your moment of life when you are sipping your tea in the bright sunshine? Noticing… what responsibilities are weighing heavily on your shoulders and in between your "should" blades? Can we soften our body just a smidgen and return to the tangy flavor of our tea, drinking in the refreshing elements of Nature in the tea leaves and rain clouds? How are we now?
Each time we let ourselves open to experience what is in front of us, we capture a part of ourselves that we would otherwise have missed. We get to know what’s underneath and behind the busyness that has become our habit and, for that wonderful moment, notice the Self that is noticing the self. As we bring more and more awareness to ourselves and our experience, even if it contains pain or uncomfortableness, we can begin the journey of taking care of our true selves (behind the roles and ego) more fully. This awareness of self is the first step in healing the pains and points of suffering. From this place, understanding and then reconciliation may arrive. In this way, mindfulness is a miracle for, with the simplest of attention, we can gift ourselves the preciousness of our life.
So try this on. For a few minutes right now, stop what you are doing and bring awareness to your breathing. You’ve been doing it all day long and it’s been supporting every action you’ve taken. As you pay attention to it, don’t do anything different to it - just leave it as it is. Now also sense your body with the breath, noticing the subtle movements of it as you breathe in and out. Staying here for a few minutes, let everything else settle down - your mind, your thoughts, your to-do’s. The only thing to do in this moment is to pay attention to yourself, breathing. Stay here and rest. Open to being and breathing. What’s there that you may have missed before? What miracle of mindfulness is yours?
Love and peace to you!
Mindfulness & Stress Management Coach
Eden Energy Medicine Certified Practitioner
8 limbs Holistic Health, LLC