Mindfulness. It is a step, not the goal
Mindfulness, a practice of conscious attention to our thoughts and feelings is a common and widely promoted practice. It has many benefits, such as reducing stress levels, increased concentration, physical and emotional wellbeing, and so on. Paying attention to our thoughts, emotions, and feelings may seem like a simple thing to do, but in reality, it takes significant effort. Whenever there is an effort, there is some degree of tension in our being. This tension is heightened when mindfulness is made the goal.
Paying attention to our thoughts, emotions, and feelings may seem like a simple thing to do, but in reality, it takes significant effort.
Breathing helps the cells of the body live and thrive; breathing is not the goal of life. Similarly, mindfulness helps free up mental energy and can help our creativity thrive. The act of being mindful, or even a mind in a state of equanimity, creativity, and sharpness is not the goal of mindfulness practice. Once we bring the mind to such a state, what we do with that energy becomes essential.
Perhaps, the ordinary mind is in an unnatural state, and mindfulness takes the mind to its natural state. We are not the mind. We can become aware of the changes happening in the mind. Mindfulness helps uncouple awareness from the mind and its contents. We begin the real inner journey by building on this newly freed awareness.
Mindfulness helps uncouple awareness from the mind and its contents. We begin the real inner journey by building on this newly freed awareness.
In mindfulness practices, we aim to replace a naturally chaotic mind with a serene and calming inner environment. Whatever is perceived inside is reflected outside, and the converse is true. For example, when we witness a beautiful sunset, we see the horizon effortlessly swallow the dying sun. As it sheds its last rays of light onto the clouds, we cannot help but become peaceful internally.
When we are fully engaged with the sight of a beautiful sunset, there is no thought of the night to come or the day that has passed. Without knowing we effortlessly enter the present moment. We are in the enjoyment of being merely aware of the surroundings. This is an example of effortless natural mindfulness. We don’t need to practice this. It comes naturally.
Contrast this with the mind. The mind, like the sun, rises in the morning and sets in the night when we go to sleep. We don’t look at the rising or the setting of the mind in the same manner as we do with a sunrise or a sunset. Watching the natural world is easy compared to watching the mind.
There is chaos in nature, but we can see and appreciate the beauty amidst that chaos. With the mind, it is harder to see its beauty. We are easily affected by the chaotic nature of thoughts. This differentiation, which is seeing the mind as separate from nature, has given birth to the practice of mindfulness.
We are easily affected by the chaotic nature of thoughts.
The root of the problem of mindful watching of our mind being a difficult practice lies in our relationship with our thoughts. When we were born, we never asked for a mind that is this way or that way. One day, we became conscious of the entity we call the mind. The way the mind appears to us is a reflection of the state of the energies within us.
Energy cannot be contained or made static. It will find a way out of such artificial confinement. When we identify and label an experience as “mine,” we hold onto that transient flow of energy. It has taken a temporary form as an experience. It is like trying to hold onto the air all around us. We are left with is a tightly clenched fist when we try to hold onto air.
There are hundreds and thousands of thoughts we identify with, to varying degrees, daily. With identification comes the effort of holding onto those thoughts long after they have left our conscious experience. The effort of holding onto thoughts is like walking around with a clenched fist from morning to night.
With identification comes the effort of holding onto those thoughts long after they have left our conscious experience.
If we consciously clench our fist for a few moments, we begin to feel fatigued in our fingers, hands, and wrists. Once we let go, there is a sudden relaxation as if we have dropped a heavyweight. Imagine letting go of all the thoughts accumulated in the mind, both in the conscious and subconscious compartments. It would result in tremendous inner relaxation. Perhaps a state of being which we may even call divine.
Just as the physical body succumbs to tiredness, the mind is also susceptible to fatigue. When the body is tired, we can rest our limbs by sitting on a comfortable chair, or we can relax the entire body by lying down. But we cannot rest the mind that easily.
We may be in a very comfortable dwelling with all amenities, but it can do little to relax an always active and restless mind. The mind may become more agitated as the body is made comfortable. When the body is subject to intense physical activity, the attention goes to the body, and the mind relaxes. We cannot sustain such intense physical effort all the time.
Mindfulness may be a way out from calming a busy and restless mind. It is a simple practice, with no hidden secrets. Remaining watchful is all it takes. However, despite the simplicity of the practice, it can be challenging to sustain.
Mindfulness may be a way out from calming a busy and restless mind. It is a simple practice, with no hidden secrets.
However, despite the simplicity of the practice, it can be challenging to sustain.
The reason for this difficulty is related to the thoughts that are not in our conscious mind. Those thoughts, although they may not be disturbing us, are in the background like thousands of tightly clenched fists. Identification with them creates a situation in which the mental energy associated with those past thoughts and experiences are locked in place. This results in significant mental tension.
We may encounter a thought which lasts only for a few seconds. But if we are intensely identified with the contents of that particular thought, it sends a signal to the subconscious to keep that thought in long term storage for later recall. Thoughts are nothing but formless energy that takes the shape of a mental image. They are like waves rising from the ocean and settling back into the waters from which they arise.
A thought is a discrete wave of mental energy. If we let these waves subside on their own accord without trying to impose ownership over it, they dissipate naturally. But once we like a thought or dislike a thought, we effectively affirm that we own that particular wave of energy.
A thought is a discrete wave of mental energy.
Imagine an ocean where millions of waves are frozen in place in various shapes and forms as they ebb and flow. The subconscious mind is a state of deep freeze when energies associated with thoughts are frozen in place. As these energies thaw, they are released back into the conscious mind. If we again identify with them, they are sent to the subconscious mind for further storage. This cycle can be endless.
But if we do not identify with the contents of thoughts that course through the mind, they are dismantled, and free energy is released back into the mind space. But doing this thought by thought is next to impossible. There isn’t enough time in our daily lives to untangle and unravel the mind and its millions of thought-forms.
If we do not identify with the contents of thoughts that course through the mind, they are dismantled, and free energy is released back into the mind space.
Mindfulness, by which we impassionately watch our thoughts and their movement in the mind creates a space, like a small clearing in a dense forest. When we try to clear the entire forest of the mind, we run into difficulties. But the experience of a small clearing which is relatively quiet compared to the rest of the mind gives us a new perspective — our awareness of the mind, a sense of being separate from the mind.
Mindfulness, by which we impassionately watch our thoughts and their movement in the mind creates a space, like a small clearing in a dense forest.
Mindfulness is a form of localized awareness of our mind, thoughts, actions, and feelings. The ego is still at play. If we are not careful, one part of the mind begins to watch another. It may not be a true awareness that rises above the mind and watches the mind in its totality. In such a state of awareness, the ego has minimal or no influence.
While we are aware of the experience of mindfulness which results in a calm and peaceful mind, part of our attention must be on seeking the experiencer. It is easy to get lost in a pleasant state of calmness and quiet that mindfulness practice may bring. The next big step is finding the experiencer of a calm, quiet, and peaceful mind.
It is easy to get lost in a pleasant state of calmness and quiet that mindfulness practice may bring. The next big step is finding the experiencer of a calm, quiet, and peaceful mind.
Using mindfulness, we can create a space where there is awareness of the movement of the mind. From here, we can move towards seeking the one who is experiencing. This helps shift our being from a state of localized awareness to non-localized awareness.
Awareness cannot see itself, just as the physical eye can see the world but not itself. In an irreducible state of awareness, we become the real experiencer. With such awareness, it becomes easier to contrast the constantly moving and changing energies of the mind and thoughts with the changeless state of awareness.
In an irreducible state of awareness, we become the real experiencer.
A hundred-year-old mirror that is kept spotlessly clean may have reflected thousands of faces that went across it, but not a single face can leave an impression. This is representative of changeless, choiceless awareness. No thought, however compelling or dramatic can leave a stain of memory. Like a mirror that reflects the present moment, not a fraction of a second in the past or the future, awareness keeps us in the present.
Mindfulness is the first big step towards choiceless, non-localized awareness, our true nature.