On Mindfulness

As I see it, mindfulness is paying attention on purpose to the present moment, without judging, comparing or trying to fix things. That’s a lot to consider. Let’s take that one part at a time.

Paying attention on purpose to the present moment sounds pretty straightforward but it’s actually very difficult. Even if you think you’re giving your undivided attention to this post, chances are at least part of your mind is thinking about what you have to do later today, what you have to do tomorrow at work or at home and you may even be starting to plan your next vacation. A popular saying and the title of many weekend retreats and workshops is “Be here now.” Have you ever been in a mall, looking for a store, and gone to the map? A good map lays out the location of all the stores and also has a little arrow saying “you are here.” This is a great place to be. Being in the present moment is being here now, and whenever we get lost in our thoughts, mindfulness helps us return to the present. You are here.

We do it without judging.  You aren’t responsible for your thoughts or feelings, you have no control over what pops into your mind, and therefore you need not condemn – or salute – yourself for what you think. Your thoughts are just your thoughts. That’s all.

The comparing mind is closely related to the judging mind. I am better than him. She is better than me. I performed this task better last time than this time. It’s easy to see how comparing leads quickly to judging. Comparisons with others, or with perfection, always lead to stress. True mindfulness simply observes thoughts and remembers that they are both impermanent and not a reflection of who you really are.

The fixing mind is something we all have to some extent. John Gray wrote a book called “Men Are From Mars, Women Are from Venus.” One of the illustrations he uses involves a woman coming home from work and telling her husband all about the problems of the day. His impulse is to help her by explaining what she has to do to fix the problem. She doesn’t want that advice; she just wants someone to listen to her. Gray’s point is that men and women communicate differently. It’s not that one way is any better or worse than the other, they are just different. My point is that the impulse to fix is powerfully rooted in our brains, and is the enemy of mindfulness.