What is mindfulness 2?

Meg writes…

On my continued journey in exploring the meaning of mindfulness I’ve been re-reading several of the articles in the Contemporary Buddhism special issue on the topic from last year. As I reference these I’m adding them to a new section of the references on this website called ‘mindfulness‘.

It’s taken a while for me to get my head around it, but I’m now understanding that the popular definition (by Jon Kabat-Zinn and others) which includes the idea of attending non-judgementally to the present moment is problematic because it just represents one form of mindfulness.

It is useful to cultivate the ability to observe the here-and-now in a way that doesn’t evaluate (trying to keep ‘positive’ thoughts and feelings and avoid ‘negative’ ones, for example).

However, we can also be mindful of things that are not present. Given that mindfulness is something that we try to cultivate in everything, we would also try to engage with our memories and future plans mindfully. And there are specific mindfulness meditations which are not present-focused (for example when we bring to mind other people to cultivate loving-kindness, or when we meditate on the fact of our death).

Also, we can evaluate in a mindful way, for example when we try to determine the ethical thing to do, or when we notice unhelpful habits of mind and attempt to change these.

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2 responses to “What is mindfulness 2?

  1. I think this is a very subtle area and that it’s difficult to express. I think it’s what the idea of little mind and big mind speaks to, so I’m going to borrow those words, used by people wiser than me. 🙂

    I think that little mind, or monkey mind, lives in a place and in a time, and has learned to jump around. It can be taught through practice to act differently, which might be the “attending to the present moment” you’re describing.

    I think that big mind, or Buddha mind, is a mind which is always attending to “this present moment”. But to big mind, “this present moment” is the only place in which all other moments can be found. Memories exist in “this present moment” as memories and the future exists “in this present moment” as emotions, anticipations, expectations.

    So when big mind attends to “this present moment”, it attends to all moments, past and future; or rather, those moments don’t exist except in the ways in which they can be found in “this present moment”.

    For me, the way that I teach little mind to attend is to allow it to gently expand into big mind, which is always attending because there is nothing else for it to attend to, and that the goal of practice is for little mind to awakens to the always-attending that big mind is doing, or that big mind is.

  2. megbarkerpsych

    That’s very helpful, thanks Cas. I think perhaps some recent versions of mindfulness miss the big mind aspect and focus just on teaching little mind to act differently. Perhaps that is part of the problem that some Buddhists have with them.
    I’ve just also been referencing that list of koans that you sent me in my book as I try to run through some of the different practices that people engage with, so thanks for that also.