It’s the miracle cure-all panacea. It’ll make your workers more productive, it’ll make your soldiers more efficient, it’ll cure your anxiety and phobia and probably give your grandpa an erection. Mindfulness.
Well… No. We really, really have to stop this nonsense. Now that new studies have been popping up showing that it’s not necessarily making workers more productive, but rather more vegetative-stupefied than previously advertised, and that some are having panic attacks from attempting mindfulness practice, it raises a very good question:
What’s this “mindfulness” anyway?
If you look at a so-called “secular mindfulness” organization’s website, chances are you’ll find descriptions like “the art of being aware of experience without judgment”, or “non-judgmental awareness”. Like I said, vegetative-stupefied. Of this kind of thing makes you want to stab the nearest hippie in the leg with your fork, you’re not alone. I too have to fight the urge.
So here’s the thing. When the Buddha spoke of mindfulness (Sati) he mentioned it in the context of remembering. In fact it probably comes from the root ‘Sarati’ which literally means: to remember.
In the context of Real Mindfulness, it carries the meaning of “remembering what needs to be remembered”.
Simply speaking, Mindfulness means to remember to observe how the mind’s attention moves from thing to thing.
It’s not about observing the objects/content of mind, or focusing on such an object to the (forceful) exclusion of everything else, but about observing the activity, the action, of the mind itself. We have to remember to observe. “Oh, I’m here to meditate, not think about lunch or admire the wallpaper.” That’s the true function of mindfulness. And that brings me to the next important point:
Mindfulness alone is not enough.
Mindfulness is the “driver” of our meditation car. It reminds us where we’re going, what we’re doing. But the practice itself consists of watching the mind, becoming familiar with its behavior and its activities. We cultivate skillful mental qualities by remembering (being mindful) to apply Real Effort, seeing how unskillful qualities arise in the mind and preventing them from doing so, and promoting the arising of skillful mental qualities.
In time, this practice allows us to see through to the mind’s fundamental reality, seeing clearly what it is and how it is. Seeing our own Nature, and resolving such fundamental questions as “Who am I?” and “What’s all this?”.
Of course, we can also practice in order to calm down a bit and to lower our anxiety to an extent. Or just to be better at using our attention. But these (and many more) are all fruits of correct practice anyway!
Only practicing this “non-judgmental awareness” stuff without anything else might indeed suppress your mental crap for a bit, but your vacant stare and smug hipster attitude will surely be to the detriment of your peers and loved ones. So say mindfulness to me once more, hippy. I dare you.