Many people have different definitions of mindfulness. For example, the founder of MBSR Jon Kabat-Zinn defined mindfulness as the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally. The Greater Good Science Center from the University of Berkeley defined it as maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens. The center adds that it also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. But what exactly is the purpose of the practice? What do we do when we see the happenings in the body, feelings, and thoughts? Many have proposed mindfulness helps the mind accept things as they are. But what are we accepting?
The Purpose of Arising Awareness
The practice of mindfulness is to strengthen awareness. Awareness has also been called consciousness. Consciousness has the function of knowing. One can be conscious that one is sitting down or walking. But one is seldom conscious when enjoying an ice-cream under the hot sun. One is also seldom aware when thinking. Whenever consciousness is absorbed in pleasurable feelings, uncomfortable feelings, or thinking, it is not aware.
We can see that when we are absorbed in pleasurable feelings such as enjoying an hour of massage in a spa, there is thinking. One thinks about how to prolong the pleasures of being massaged. When there are uncomfortable feelings such as sadness, there is also thinking. One thinks about how to get rid of the sadness. When one is sitting down and not doing anything, one thinks about what to do next. When we talk to others, there is definitely thinking.
As you can see, thinking is what causes stress. Thinking makes us unconscious. Being unconscious is living as if we are dead because we don’t know our experiences. Instead of being aware of our experiences, we think about them. We feel as if we have never lived when death comes. Having awareness, however, makes one alive because there is consciousness.
Is Not Thinking the Same as Stupidity?
There are many practitioners who mistake mindfulness as being absorbed in the present moment. This would be another form of being absorbed by a pleasurable or uncomfortable thought without awareness. One can be absorbed while being aware in meditation. When the mind is absorbed in the present moment, there is heightened focus and the mind is very aware. In this state, the consciousness does not go to sleep but knows all that goes on in the mind. Think about the times when you are asleep but dreaming. If you are aware of your dreams, you know that consciousness never ends and thinking never stops.
Unfortunately, our daily thinking mostly runs on autopilot mode and fulfills no purpose except to make us stressed and tired. Unconscious thinking runs all over the place and is mostly focused on self-gratification. That is why when we face rejections or disagreements from others, we feel unease. Being defied by others brings no pleasures and does not gratify the self.
On the other hand, when there is the consciousness of thoughts, one has a chance to choose what to think. This gives us the power to think happy thoughts whenever we want. Even when people criticize us, or if we are facing fears, we can choose to think peaceful thoughts. So you see, not thinking does not make one stupid. But thinking incessantly without awareness has a higher propensity of making us stupid.
What Is Acceptance in Mindfulness?
When we are aware of our body sensations, feelings, and thoughts, this gives us a chance to finally be the master of mind and body. A master is one who is aware and can direct the thoughts and actions of the mind and body. But this ability to master the mind and body is different from being an authoritarian ruler in a country. We can only truly master something when we let go.
This may sound contradictory. Isn’t letting go not caring about anything? How is letting go the same as acceptance?
For example, when the body suffers pain and the doctor tells us he can lessen the pain, but there is no cure. The mind’s first instinct is to hate the feeling. If the pain does not bring on death, the mind can choose to be grateful and lessen the pain. If the pain may bring on death, the mind can think of all the good one has done on earth and be grateful for having lived and shared goodness. In both cases, the mind has chosen to accept the pain through gratitude. By accepting the pain through gratitude, the mind has also let go of the pain.
Another way is to bring up awareness instead of changing thoughts. If awareness is strong, it can break down the pain in the body and the mind. When the mind tenses up, so does the body and vice-versa. But when the mind lets go of the tension, the body tends to relax as well. This relaxation releases tension surrounding the pain in the body.
Through mindfulness exercises such as being aware of pain, one may recognize that pain is being defined as bad or unpleasant by the mind. The labeling of pain by the mind makes it worse than it really is. Pain is just a series of sensations. We can teach the mind to learn our experiences this way – by being aware. When the awareness sees pain as only sensations, there is acceptance, and at the same time, there is letting go.
Letting Go While Doing
Letting go is not being lazy. The body is incapable of staying in one position forever unless it is disabled. The mind too is unable to stay still. Lazy persons still perform actions such as seeking pleasures or sleeping lots. Letting go grows gradually for one who practices mindfulness. Why is that so?
We may realize how unconscious thoughts do us more harm than good and let go of these thoughts. We start realizing that most people are unaware of their feelings and thoughts. Therefore we cannot expect them to fulfill their promises. We cannot expect them to be appreciative or be grateful. We may also realize that the body cannot be controlled by us. It gets infected whenever it wants to. A disease comes suddenly, and no one ever wants that. Feelings too are hard to control. We know only love can appease hate. But yet it is hard to control ill will when someone jumps our queue.
Mindfulness teaches us that we cannot really control our environment, including our bodies. When we try to steer things our way, we meet with countless oppositions. Through gradual realizations of how little control we have, we let go. By letting go, we perform our work with enjoyment instead of expectations. We learn to accept that the body can disintegrate anytime and so we let go of outcomes and instead focus on little things. We let go of petty feelings and choose to enjoy the time we have. Doing little things while letting go can bring joy and love. One can be surprised how doing little things with love and joy by letting go can exceed our expectations.
Learn mindfulness with us and train your mind to let go to truly enjoy the little things in life without expectations.