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Why Learn Mindfulness from the Heart, not the Head?

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This is a reflection piece from the author sharing her experience of having learned mindfulness and taught it. She supports scientific tests and studies on mindfulness. But she also finds mindfulness becoming more and more a concept in the head than a practice from the heart in secular mindfulness circles. What she expresses in this reflection is only her own personal observation and may not reflect the truth.

I do not come from a scientific background and prior to learning mindfulness, I was interested in the arts. Thus, I pursued work related to the arts such as content production, writing, and producing. But this does not mean I wasn’t a practical person. I am organized and think through my plans before executing them. However, there are not many things in life that I have done solely based on what I think. I must say that prior to mindfulness, I was ruled by my heart and logic often comes to its defense. The thinking mind and heart are great accomplices. It is hard to see who is leading who. But it is easy to see that most times we are driven by feelings. But yet, as a mindfulness practitioner and coach, I am finding secular mindfulness practice conquering the head more than understanding the heart.

Thinking about mindfulness

When I first embarked on mindfulness, I learned it through theory. The theory I learned is not the typical math formula or psychology case studies to memorize. Rather, it was a practical theory about how the mind works. As I am not an academic, and enjoy observations and practical application, what I learned from classical mindfulness about the mind made me reflect a lot. It is a contemplative work about the mind, rather than a dry scientific study.

But this first place I learned about mindfulness did not give me clarity about what mindfulness is. It is too theory-based and depended on a lot of thinking. One can say wisdom can be gained from contemplation, but it is still thinking without proper observation or discernment. In classical mindfulness, wisdom is not the usual knowledge we derive from materialistic rational thinking. When I say materialistic, it means our dependence and belief that our thoughts come from our brain, or that our brain and sense-influenced thoughts are reliable.

Feelings trump thoughts

As mentioned, the thinking mind and feelings are an inseparable couple. Mindfulness allows us to see how they work with each other and the causes and effects they produce. Even though I contemplated, the wisdom I gained came without the heart.

I found that I was still thrown around by my feelings. I could not see how perception (memory and recognition) drive my feelings then. Or that thinking about something repeatedly impresses upon one’s memory and produces perception. Perception comes so quickly that feelings are formed, influencing the thinking mind and the heart. While the mind thinks, the heart wills and feels. Most of us are slaves to our feelings although seldom does anyone like to admit it.

Mindfulness is not about adding thoughts or purpose

While reflection can bring a lot of benefits by producing wisdom, it can also bring about corrupted wisdom. Let me explain what I mean. Mindfulness in its true form does not stand alone as a sole quality to transform our minds. It includes other qualities such as virtue and effort. Most people practice mindfulness to be happier, to have less stress, or to help them solve problems by making wise decisions. Most people approach mindfulness to gain something or to find their purpose.

All these intentions to learn mindfulness will, unfortunately, not bear fruit for practitioners. Why? Mindfulness is a practice to know yourself in whatever situation you are in. Mindfulness is about recognizing the constant flux in life and letting go while doing your best without going against conscience. This means whether you fail or succeed while doing your best, you remain at ease and even joyful – having kept a good conscience.

Mindfulness can help you realize your purpose, but the moment you surround your mind with thoughts of your purpose, you have lost mindfulness. When we are self-absorbed in our purpose, we tend to lose reality. Whenever we have thoughts about wanting this or that, we could be increasing our pride. Pride itself is thoughts about ourselves. Having increased our pride, we no longer are able to do things with ease or joy, because we must succeed in our purpose. If we don’t, we feel lost because of the investment of our pride supported by driven thoughts.

What is mindfulness from the heart?

As I progressed in my own mindfulness practice, I realized how important it is to also meditate on the heart. After all, actions are willed from the heart. When we become mindful of our thoughts, we can select what we want to go into our memories. This means we try to find something good in everything we see or hear. We make effort to only see the good in everything because it is only by doing so we can have good memories.

Good memories influence our perception and thus affects our habitual feelings. But this is a long way to gain mindfulness in the heart. Why? How many mindfulness practitioners or people do you know who are actually aware of their habitual thoughts and feelings and refuse to go along with them? Especially prideful thoughts? Prideful thoughts (thoughts of self-preservation or self-annihilation) are the most justified thoughts in our minds and we often defend these thoughts without mindfulness.

You may argue first that it makes no sense to only see the good in everything. You may also argue that without pride, how can there be a heart because there is no one to feel or to will.

You are the world

We are creators of our own thoughts (by making choices on what to focus on), as well as feelings. In this sense, we create our thought world. Without thinking and judging everything around you, buildings are just buildings, streets are just streets without names. But nevertheless, we can walk on the streets and pass by buildings by just experiencing. The moment we judge and separate buildings and streets (also people), we create a world in our heads.

What we create we believe, even if they aren’t true because of our pride. We have invested time and feelings into our thought creation, so naturally, we feel offended when others put us down. Do you see how we create our own world? Others create your world with you by agreeing or disagreeing with you. Once you have realized this wisdom with mindfulness, you willingly decide to choose to see mostly good things most of the time. You will also begin to let go of feelings that cause you to resist experiences you dislike.

How to practice mindfulness from your heart?

We are often taught to practice meditation by watching the breath and coming back to the breath whenever there are distractions. In this way, we are learning to be firm in our choice to be in the present moment with the breath. By making this choice to stay with the breath, our attention steadies and we can see the kind of thoughts we enjoy creating or nurturing.

We can meditate on our hearts by choosing the heart (feeling) quality we resonate with the most. It can be the quality of love. Just as we bring attention to our breath when meditating, we can bring our attention to the feeling of love in our hearts.

Mindfulness takes effort so we keep a good conscience by not resisting or fighting against things. We change what we can change and be okay about what we cannot change. Having a good conscience naturally protects the quality of our hearts and gives us a calm mind. With a clear heart and mind, meditation would be a joyful and easy practice.

As much as the world relies on scientific evidence and proof, which I support, I must add that approaching mindfulness with our usual thinking mind does not work. We cannot learn mindfulness on cold hard proofs without involving our hearts. Mindfulness teachers too cannot teach mindfulness without knowing their own minds and hearts clearly, for they can easily mislead others.

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