Mindfulness and Happiness

Mindfulness = Happiness?

Scientifically, the answer is YES.

Mindfulness refers to a state of mind characterized by awareness and attention in the present moment, and by an accepting, curious, and non-judgmental attitude.

The idea behind modern mindfulness training is that we can decrease stress and increase well-being by changing our relationship to our experience. Mindfulness means being present no matter what we’re doing, and being aware and curious about what’s going on inside and around us–without judgement. It means accepting experience, even when we don’t like it, and it means knowing that, often, everything is truly okay—right this minute—and doesn’t need to change. The application of these concepts in everyday life helps limit some of our most ubiquitous mental health scourges, including sleep-walking through our days without really connecting with anyone or anything; the rote pursuit of questionable habits or routines; distracting categorization of every situation or experience as good or bad; and focusing on the past or the future at the expense of the present.

Many people who begin practicing mindfulness meditation report improvements in mood, stress level, and overall quality of life. It seems that practicing mindfulness can improve our quality of life and make us feel happier.

Mindfulness is accessible: anyone can learn about it and anyone can practice it.

Mindful Practices To Live A Happier Life

Be Playful

We need playtime and we need it daily! One of the first scientists to embark in the field of neuroplasticity, Marion Diamond, showed how rats that have toys and playmates inevitably ran mazes more efficiently and also showed growth in an area of their brain (the cerebral cortex) involved with cognitive processing. Play enhances social bonds and social learning—key areas for generating happiness.

How do we figure out what play means to us? This is going to mean different things to different people. What’s playful to you, may not be playful to me. You may enjoy competitive sports, board games, or going out and doing something — anything. Making it prosocial with friends adds another level of engagement.

Be Mindful

Well, you knew I was going to say this one. Years ago, Dan Gilbert and Matthew Killingsworth out of Harvard created an app called trackyourhappiness.org. This app pinged you to see if you were paying attention to what you were intending to pay attention to and how you were feeling (this is a general description). Thousands of people went through this and they found that on average our minds are wandering 46.9% of the time. It also found that the more the mind wandered, the unhappier we were. Now there are a variety of studies pointing the happiness effects of mindfulness on the brain.

Ultimately, mindfulness helps us pay attention to our intentions, here’s a mindful breathing practice to play with daily.

Be Forgiving

We’re all imperfect at practicing what makes us happy. But the better we get at forgiving ourselves for our mistakes, the less dwelling there’ll be and the better we will also get at getting back on track. In Uncovering Happiness you’ll notice the suggestion to practice “Forgive, Investigate and Invite.” Forgive yourself for the time gone by, it’s the past, Investigate what brought you off track so you can learn from it and Invite yourself to begin again.

Also, the better we get at forgiving others, apparently the higher our happiness quotient can go. There’s plenty of research pointing to this, but some of the more informal research by Soul Pancake is more fun (see below):

Be Compassionate

The act of recognizing someone else is suffering with the inclination to want to support them has plenty of science-based correlations to a meaningful and purposeful life. Creating social connection is a major happiness booster, makes important neural shifts in the brain and giving makes it even that much better.

Commit to smiling more, saying thank you, or letting someone merge in front of you in traffic. You can also give financially or volunteer your time. Recognize you are part of a larger network and as my late Grandmother in-law Margie Lipman said in her Ethical Will “Reach out to those who ache for some comfort, search for ways you can lighten their load.”

The Basics – Eat, Sleep, Exercise, Rest

The science seems to be very clear on these (along with probably millions of testimonials). Whenever someone comes to see me in my practice these are the fundamentals I look for. How are you eating, what does your sleep look like, how do you rest and are you exercising? These are all keys to not only happiness, but healthy brain development. Focusing on these basics can create an internal sense of personal control which is correlated with happiness.

It can be overwhelming to consider taking action here, so consider the question, “What do I think I can do?” and then make a plan and go from there.

Take these to heart, weave a bit of them in daily: Daily Practices from the Heart of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (that we stole from Nike) – “Just Do It!”

Mini Mindfulness Meditation

It’s easy to feel stressed. Demands on our time, a long to-do list and people asking for phone calls and meetings.

There is a way out. If you meditate for even ten minutes, you’ll feel better.

That’s because the body’s stress response is prone to snap judgements. As the Brainwave Research Institute writes, “Much of what activates our primal “fight or flight” response is not something that will kill us – we just think it will.” Our brains are wired, as they say, to over-react.

How Generations Meditate On Mindfulness

According to a recent UC-Davis report, mindfulness training triples students’ ability to focus and participate in class activities. In recent years, this sort of validating research has helped push mindfulness from a niche interest to a full-blown lifestyle. From the boardroom to the classroom, Americans of all ages are putting their own spin on the practice. Boomers were originally attracted to mindfulness for its holistic benefits. Today, Generation X is using mindfulness as an individual practice to rise above the competition, while Millennials are using it as a team-strengthening exercise.

Guide To 10-Minute Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness brings awareness to what you are doing. With that clarity comes the possibility of choice. You can learn to intercept unhelpful, unwanted habits and cultivate positive ones. As you learn to do that with meditation, you can translate it to any activity, whether it’s playing sports, writing computer code, or listening to your child when they come home from school.

A Ten Minute Mini Mindfulness Meditation

Find a place where you can be undisturbed for at least ten minutes. Sitting in a chair where you can be upright yet relaxed, assume a comfortable posture. Allow your body to be at ease.

Gently close your eyes and turn your attention inward. Sense how your body feels in this moment. Mindfulness is a quality of attention that’s allowing, inviting, curious about what is. So as you pay attention to your body, see if you can bring a quality of attention that’s accepting and allowing of how things are in this moment.

Move your attention through your whole body, noticing where you may be holding any unnecessary tension, inviting your belly and shoulders to relax, softening the muscles around your eyes and face, relaxing your jaw.

Sit with awareness of your body, and notice that it is naturally breathing by itself, your breath effortlessly coming and going. Allow your breath to be exactly as it is, and bring your full attention to it. Notice how your breathing is in this moment. Is it long or short, deep or shallow, relaxed or tense? Notice how your breath changes each time you breathe.

Be with your breath as though you were encountering it for the first time, as if this were the first breath you ever took.

Notice where you feel your breath most clearly. Is it at the nostrils as the cool air enters and warm air leaves your nose? Or in the back of your throat? Or in the lifting and expanding of your upper chest when you inhale or the contraction of your chest when you exhale? Or perhaps in the rising and falling of your abdomen?

Establish your attention in the place where you feel your breath most clearly. Pay attention to the full duration of an in breath and an out breath. Stay present if there’s a pause between breaths; simply be aware of your body sitting until the next in breath comes. When you notice sounds appearing and disappearing, sensations arising and passing, emotions, thoughts, and images coming and going, just acknowledge them and then bring your attention back to your breath.

If it is helpful, you can make a soft mental note of “in” when you inhale and “out” when you exhale. Make sure the mental note takes only about 5 percent of your attention and that the majority of your focus is on feeling the actual sensations of your breath.

If your attention becomes absorbed in thoughts, memories, or plans, simply reestablish a connection with your breath. When you notice that thinking is happening, that itself is a moment of mindfulness. There is no need to judge yourself; just bring your attention back to your breath.

As a way of deepening your attention to your breath, focus on the very beginning of an in breath. Gently sustain your attention just for that one in breath. Then notice the beginning of an out breath, and sustain your attention just for that one out breath.

No matter how many times your attention wanders or how far you become lost in thought, it takes only a moment to return to mindfulness, to the present moment. Return to the present moment by reestablishing a connection with your body and then reconnecting with your breath.

It’s natural for the mind to think. Mindfulness practice is coming into wise relationship with thought and with everything that happens in your experience. So without judgment or criticism, bring your attention back again and reestablish a connection with your breath. Connect and sustain your attention with each in breath and each out breath. Notice how each breath is different from the previous one. Allow your awareness to be absorbed by and permeate each breath. Pay attention to the fine sensations and nuances of your changing breath. If you find yourself becoming tense or trying to control your breath, relax a little, making sure there ’s ease in your body.

In the last few minutes of the meditation, let go of what’s gone on before and just begin again. Allow yourself to simply be aware of sitting and breathing. Rest in this natural awareness of your breath as it comes and goes.
As you begin to bring this meditation to a close, take a moment to sense your body, your heart, and your mind.

Notice the effect of this exercise.

When you feel ready to end this meditation, slowly open your eyes, and gently move and stretch.

Bring the same quality of mindful attention you used in this meditation to everything you encounter. See if you can sustain this mindfulness as you move through your day. Remember that the more you do mindfulness training, the more you’ll be able to bring mindful awareness into the rest of your life.

Meditation Apps To Achieve Mindfulness

The first rule of mindfulness might be to switch your smartphone off. From checking emails at bedtime to constant, needy push notifications from mobile games, our phones can often feel like they amplify our daily stress.

Turning to your smartphone for respite from the digital clutter may feel as ridiculous as holding an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in a pub, with your inbox, social networks and Candy Crush Saga just a couple of taps away.

Still, mobile meditation apps are trying to help. There are hundreds available, although the pool of genuinely useful ones is much smaller. Here are five of the best to try out.

Meditation & Mindfulness

Meditation is a term used for many forms of relaxation. According to the Mayo Clinic, meditations can help with conditions including depression, sleep disorders, anxiety, and chronic pain. It might also be helpful as part of a treatment program for cancer and heart disease.

Meditation is one of the best ways to combat stress and the many health issues caused by or made worse by stress. Regardless of age, gender, or health status, anyone can benefit from some form of meditation. Here, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best meditation apps you can download and take with you anywhere.

The Best Meditation Apps ?

Buddhify

  • iPhone rating: 4.5 stars $4.99
  • Android rating: 4.5 stars $2.99

This is a mindfulness and meditation app that is built around you. Buddhify is perfect for those who are ready to incorporate meditation and mindfulness into their entire day, with meditations that target every aspect of your life, from sleeping, to traveling, to being online. Even if you have never tried meditation before, Buddhify is a life-changer.

Favorite thing: There are 80 different guided meditation tracks, ranging from five to 30 minutes.

Calm

  • iPhone rating: 5 stars Free
  • Android rating: 4.5 stars Free

If calm is what you need, Calm is the app for you. It starts you out with a seven-day program. This is a great way for beginners to start meditation. Choose between options for sound and length of time, as well as scenes from nature for you to visually focus on while you meditate.

Other features include multiple guided as well as unguided sessions. When you decide you are ready for more than the seven-day program, you can pay for a subscription, which opens up a 21-day program.

Favorite thing: The seven-day sleep program for people who have difficulty sleeping.

Headspace

  • iPhone rating: 5 stars Free
  • Android rating: 4.5 stars Free

Headspace makes it easy for people just learning the art of meditation. Their level one course features easy, 10-minute sessions for each day that will help you get into the habit of meditating regularly. There are reminders, and you can choose to focus on aspects like foundation, health, and performance.

Once you have mastered level one, you can purchase a subscription that allows you to access even more features and options so you can expand your practice.

Favorite thing: One great feature is the buddy system, which lets you and a friend encourage each other in your journey, as well as a personalized progress page.

MINDBODY Connect

  • iPhone rating: 3 stars Free
  • Android rating: 4 stars Free

MINDBODY gives you the ability to find the fitness and health services that are right for you. You can read reviews and book appointments right on the app. If you are looking for a new yoga studio, a massage therapist, or a deal on local classes, the MINDBODY app can help. It allows you to manage your schedule and goals in one convenient place.

Favorite thing: It can also track information from your Fitbit so you can keep on track with your fitness and health goals.

Mindfulness App

  • iPhone rating: 4 stars $1.99
  • Android rating: 4 stars $1.99

The Mindfulness App is a great tool for advanced meditation, but it’s especially helpful for beginners. Jump into a mindfulness session any time you have a moment free to yourself. You can set your reminders for the times of day that you need to take a quick break and relax.

Favorite thing: The app lets you set the length of each session, and choose whether you want silent or guided mindfulness sessions.

Meditation Timer Pro

  • iPhone rating: 4.5 stars $0.99

With Meditation Timer Pro, you can meditate in whatever manner you prefer, for as long as you like. It features default sessions as well as sessions that you can customize as your own. Each session includes prep time, intervals, and a cool down, with the ability to choose different sounds for each section.

Favorite thing: You can set duration, prep, and interval times when you create customized sessions.

Omvana

  • iPhone rating: 4.5 stars Free
  • Android rating: 4.5 stars Free

Omvana gives you access to many meditation sounds, music, and guided sessions with meditation experts. Focus options include: mindfulness, stress, relaxation, sleep, and more. You can choose the length of each meditation session, from three minutes to an hour.

Favorite thing: One unique feature this app has is the background music mixer, which allows you to mix your music and create the perfect sessions for your needs.

Relax Melodies

  • iPhone rating: 5 stars Free

Relax Melodies is designed with a good night’s sleep in mind. If you have difficulty getting to sleep or feeling rested in the morning, then this is the app to try.

Beyond sleeping, the app is great for any situation that requires calming sounds or music, like yoga, massage sessions, or just simple relaxation.

Favorite thing: There are lots of sound and music options, which you can mix to create a more personalized experience.

Smiling Mind

iPhone rating: 4 stars Free Android rating: 3.5 stars Free
Smiling Mind is a nonprofit that was created to increase happiness and compassion in the world, and this app is one step toward that goal. With programs designed by age group, this app is great for kids, teens, and adults.

Favorite thing: It makes meditation easy for all ages, and the simple design of the app adds to the ease of use.

Take a Break!

  • iPhone rating: 4.5 stars Free Android rating: 4 stars Free

The Take a Break app allows you to do just that — take a break. You can choose between a short break or a longer meditation break. Both options allow you to choose with or without music and, if you are new, there are easy instructions for how to get started.

The app was designed to give users a quick and uncomplicated break to help relieve stress whenever you need it.

Favorite thing: It is simple and straightforward without being bogged down with additional features.

Sattva

  • iPhone rating: 3 stars Free

Sattva is an advanced meditation timer that tracks your progress. This app features challenges and rewards to help encourage you, and features guided meditations and chants, as well as a heart rate monitor, mood tracker, and statistics feature.

Favorite thing: You can connect with a community of others who are working on their mindfulness and meditation practices.

Free Meditation/Mindfulness Apps Worthy of Your Attention

Some of the free meditation/mindfulness apps are trending in a big way. Here are five we’re happy we downloaded.

Insight Timer

  • Available for iOS and Android

Insight Timer is one of the most popular free meditation apps out there, and it’s easy to see why. The app features more than 4,000 guided meditations from over 1,000 teachers—on topics like self-compassion, nature, and stress—plus talks and podcasts. If you prefer a quieter meditation, you can always set a timer and meditate to intermittent bells or calming ambient noise.

Right from the beginning, the app feels like a community; the home screen announces, “3,045 meditating right now / Home to 1,754,800 meditators.” After you finish a meditation, you’ll learn exactly how many people were meditating “with you” during that time; by setting your location, you can even see meditators nearby and what they’re listening to.

Insight Timer doesn’t recommend step-by-step sequences of meditations to follow; it’s more like a buffet.
Despite its extensive collection, Insight Timer doesn’t show you a list of teachers—which would be helpful, especially since they feature experts like Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach, and Sharon Salzberg. And Insight Timer doesn’t recommend step-by-step sequences of meditations to follow; it’s more like a buffet. But these drawbacks hardly matter in the face of all the tempting choices.

Aura

  • Available for iOS and Android

Aura is a meditation app with a simple premise: Every day, you get a new, personalized, three-minute meditation. The same meditation never repeats; according to cofounder Daniel Lee, Aura’s teachers are constantly recording new tracks.

To personalize the experience, Aura initially asks about your age and how stressed, optimistic, and interested in mindfulness you are. The daily meditation that appears also depends on your mood: If you’re feeling great, Aura might suggest “Your Brilliant Heart;” select stressed, and you might get “You Have the Power.” If you like the day’s meditation, you can save it to your library for later listening.

Aura claims to target stress, anxiety, and depression. If a short meditation isn’t enough, you can also listen to relaxing sounds or try their Mindful Breather feature, where you synchronize your breath to an animated circle that gently expands and contracts—surprisingly effective. The home screen encourages you to jot down something you’re grateful for, another tool for well-being.

Aura is straightforward and sparse, but that’s part of the beauty. Particularly if you’re just getting started, or you don’t have lots of time to meditate, the simplicity of one meditation a day could be just what you need.

 

 

Stop, Breathe & Think

  • Available for iOS and Android

If other meditation apps expect you to dive right in, Stop, Breathe & Think wants to help you get acquainted with mindfulness first. A section called Learn to Meditate explains what mindfulness is, why it’s beneficial, and what to expect when you press play on your first track. It even covers some of the neuroscience of mindfulness and the physiology of stress, in case you’re still skeptical.

If other meditation apps expect you to dive right in, Stop, Breathe & Think wants to help you get acquainted with mindfulness first.
Then, it’s time to get started. Stop, Breathe & Think features nearly 30 free sessions, many of which come in different lengths (and different voices—from placid Jamie to friendly Grecco). Most of them are short, up to 11 minutes, and you can choose to work around themes like Breathe, Connect with Your Body, or Be Kind. Or, simply set a meditation timer and find calm amid the silence or relaxing forest sounds.

A progress page keeps track of how many days you’ve meditated in a row and your emotions, which you can record before and after each meditation. Plus, you can earn cute stickers: As a newbie, I’ve collected “Good Start” and “Tick Tock of Presence.” Stop, Breathe & Think is ideal for people who need some more structure and motivation to jumpstart their meditation habit.

 

Mindfulness in Plain English

Mindfulness in Plain English by Venerable Henepola Gunaratana

Mindfulness is the English translation of the Pali word ‘Sati.’ Sati is an activity. What exactly is that? Well, this is one of those questions without a precise answer, at least not in words. Words are devised by the symbolic levels of the mind and they describe those realities with which symbolic thinking deals. Mindfulness (Sati) is pre-symbolic. It is not shackled to logic. Nevertheless, Mindfulness can be experienced – rather easily – and it can be described, as long as you keep in mind that the words are only fingers pointing at the moon. They are not the thing itself. The actual experience lies beyond the words and above the symbols. Mindfulness could be described in completely different terms than will be used here and each description could still be correct.

Mindfulness (Sati) is a subtle process that you are using at this very moment. The fact that this process lies above and beyond words does not make it unreal – quite the reverse. Mindfulness is the reality which gives rise to words – the words that follow are simply pale shadows of reality. So, it is important to understand that everything that follows here is an analogy. It is not going to make perfect sense. Please don’t sit around scratching your head and trying to figure it all out. In fact, the meditational technique called Vipassana (insight) that was introduced by the Buddha about twenty-five centuries ago is a set of mental activities specifically aimed at experiencing a state of uninterrupted Mindfulness or Sati.

When you first become aware of something there is a fleeting instant of pure awareness just before you conceptualize he thing, before you identify it. That is a stage of Mindfulness (Sati). Ordinarily, this stage is very short. It is that flashing split second just before you focus your eyes on the thing, just before you focus your mind on the thing, just before you objectify it, clamp down on it mentally and segregate it from the rest of existence. It takes place just before ,you start thinking about it – before that little ‘yak, yak’ machine inside your skull says, “Oh, it’s a dog.” That flowing, soft-focused moment of pure awareness is Mindfulness (Sati). In that brief flashing mind- moment you experience a thing as an un-thing. You experience a softly flowing moment of pure experience that is interlocked with the rest of reality, not separate from it. Mindfulness is very much like what you see with your peripheral vision as opposed to the hard focus of normal or central vision. Yet this moment of soft, unfocused, awareness contains a very deep sort of knowing that is lost as soon as you focus your mind and objectify the object into a thing. In the process of ordinary perception, the Mindfulness (Sati) step is so fleeting as to be unobservable. We have developed the habit of squandering our attention on all the remaining steps, focusing on the perception, cognizing the perception, labeling it, and most od all, getting involved in a long string of symbolic thought about it. That original moment of Mindfulness just gets lost in the shuffle. It is the purpose of the above mentioned Vipassana (or insight) meditation to train us to prolong that moment of awareness.

When this Mindfulness (Sati) is prolonged by using proper techniques, you find that this experience is profound and it changes your whole view of the universe. This state of perception has to be learned, however, and it takes regular practice. Once you learn the technique, you will find that Mindfulness has a number of interesting characteristics.

THE CHARACTERISTICS OF MINDFULNESS (SATI)

Mindfulness (Sati) is mirror-thought. It reflects only what is presently happening and in exactly the way it is happening. There are no biases.
Mindfulness (Sati) is non-judgmental observation. It is that ability of the mind to observe without criticism. With this ability, one sees things without condemnation or judgment. One is surprised by nothing. One simply takes a balanced interest in things exactly as they are in their natural states. One does not decide and does not judge. One just observes.

It is psychologically impossible for us to objectively observe what is going on within us if we do not at the same time accept the occurrence of our various states of mind. This is especially true with unpleasant states of mind. In order to observe our own fear, we must accept the fact that we are afraid. We can’t examine our own depression without accepting i fully. The same is true for irritation and agitation, frustration and all those other uncomfortable emotional states. You can’t examine something fully if you are busy rejecting the existence of it. Whatever experience we may be having, Mindfulness just accepts it. It is simply another of life’s occurrences, just another thing to be aware of. No pride, no shame, nothing personal at stake – what is there, is there.

Mindfulness (Sati) is an impartial watchfulness. It does not take sides. It does not get hung up in what is perceived. It just perceives. Mindfulness does not get infatuated with the good stuff. It does not try to sidestep the bad stuff. There is no clinging to the pleasant, no fleeing from the unpleasant. Mindfulness sees all experiences as equal, all thoughts as equal, all feelings as equal. Nothing is suppressed. Nothing is repressed. Mindfulness does not play favorites.

Mindfulness (Sati) is nonconceptual awareness. Another English term for Sati is ‘bare attention.’ It is not thinking. It does not get involved with thought or concepts. It does not get hung up on ideas or opinions or memories. It just looks. Mindfulness registers experiences, but it does not compare them. It just observes everything as if they were occurring for the first time. It is not analysis which is based on reflection and memory. It is, rather, the direct and immediate experience of whatever is happening, without the medium of thought. It comes BEFORE thought in the perceptual process.

Mindfulness (Sati) is present-time awareness. It takes place in the here and now. It is the observance of what is happening right now, in the present moment. It stays forever in the present, surging perpetually on the crest of the ongoing wave of passing time. If you are remembering your second-grade teacher, that is memory. When you then become aware that you are remembering your second-grade teacher, that is Mindfulness. If you then conceptualize the process and say to yourself, “Oh, I am remembering”, that is thinking.

Mindfulness (Sati) is non-egoistic alertness. It takes place without reference to self. With Mindfulness one sees all phenomena without references to concepts like “me”, “my” or “mine”. For example, suppose there is a pain in your left leg. Ordinary consciousness would say, “I have a pain.” Using Mindfulness, one would simply note the sensation as a sensation. One would not tack on that extra concept “I”. Mindfulness stops one from adding anything to perception, or subtracting anything from it. One does not enhance anything. One does not emphasize anything. One just observes what is there – without distortion.

Mindfulness (Sati) is goal-less awareness. In Mindfulness, one does not strain for results. One does not try to accomplish anything. When one is mindful, one experiences reality in the present moment in whatever form it takes. There is nothing to be achieved. There is only observation.

Mindfulness (Sati) is awareness of change. It is observing the passing flow of experience. It is watching things as they are changing. It is seeing the birth, growth, and maturity of all phenomena. It is watching phenomena decay and die. Mindfulness is watching things moment by moment, continuously. It is observing all phenomena – physical, mental or emotional – whatever is presently taking place in the mind. One just sits back and watches the show. Mindfulness is the observance of the basic nature of each passing phenomena. It is watching the thing arising and passing away. It is seeing how the thing makes us feel and how we react to it. It is observing how it affects others. In Mindfulness, one is an unbiased observer whose sole job is to keep track of the constantly passing show of the universe within. Please note that last point. In Mindfulness, one watches the universe within. The meditator who is developing Mindfulness (Sati) is not concerned with the external universe. It is there, but in meditation, one’s field of study is one’s own experience, one’s thoughts, one’s feelings, and one’s perceptions. In meditation, one is one’s own laboratory. The universe within has an enormous fund of information containing the reflection of the external world and much more. An examination of this material leads to total freedom.

Mindfulness (Sati) is participatory observation. The meditator is both participant and observer at one and the same time. If one watches one’s emotions or physical sensations, one is feeling them at that very same moment. Mindfulness is not an intellectual awareness. It is just awareness. The Mirror- thought metaphor breaks down here. Mindfulness is objective, but it is not cold or unfeeling. It is the wakeful experience of life, an alert participation in the ongoing process of living.

Mindfulness is an extremely difficult concept to define in words – not because it is complex, but because it is too simple and open. The same problem crops up in every area of human experience. The most basic concept is always the most difficult to pin down. Look at a dictionary and you will see a clear example. Long words generally have concise definitions, but for short basic words like “the”, “is” or “but”, definitions can be a page long. And in physics, the most difficult functions to describe are the most basic – those that deal with the most fundamental realities of quantum mechanics. Mindfulness is a pre- symbolic function. You can play with word symbols all day long and you will never pin it down completely. We can never fully express what it is. However, we can say what it does.

THREE FUNDAMENTAL ACTIVITIES

There are three fundamental activities of Mindfulness (Sati). We can use these activities as functional definitions of the term: (1) Mindfulness reminds us what we are supposed to be doing; (2) it sees things as they really are; and (3) it sees the deep nature of all phenomena. Let’s examine these definitions in greater detail.
Mindfulness (Sati) reminds you what you are supposed to be doing. In meditation, you put your attention on one item. When your mind wanders from this focus, it is Mindfulness that reminds you that your mind is wandering and what you are supposed to be doing. It is Mindfulness that brings your mind back to the object of meditation. All of this occurs instantaneously and without internal dialogue. Meditation is not thinking. Repeated practice in meditation establishes this function as a mental habit which then carries over into the rest of your life. You should be paying bare attention to occurrences all the time, day in, day out, whether formally sitting in meditation or not. This is a very lofty ideal towards which those who meditate may be working for a period of years or even decades. Our habit of getting stuck in thought is years old, and that habit will hang on in the most tenacious manner. The only way out is to be equally persistent in the cultivation of constant Mindfulness (Sati). When Mindfulness is present, you will notice when you become stuck in your thought patterns. It is that very noticing which allows you to back out of the thought process and free yourself from it. Mindfulness then returns your attention to its proper focus. If you are meditating at that moment, then your focus will be the formal object of meditation. If you are not in formal meditation, it will be just a pure application of bare attention itself, just a pure noticing of whatever comes up without getting involved – “Ah, this comes up… and now this, and now this… and now this.”

Mindfulness (Sati) is at one and the same time both bare attention itself and the function of reminding us to pay bare attention if we have ceased to do so. Bare attention is noticing. It re-establishes itself simply by noticing that it has not been present. As soon as you are noticing that you have not been noticing, then by definition you are noticing and then again you are back to paying bare attention. Well, that all sounds very involved, but there is nothing complex about it. It is just the words. It is just a thing you will learn to do by feel, the way you play baseball. Mindfulness creates its own distinct feeling in consciousness. It has a flavor – a light, clear, energetic flavor. Conscious thought is heavy by comparison, ponderous and picky. But here again, these are just words. Your own practice will show you the difference. Then you will probably come up with your own words and the words used here will become superfluous. Remember, practice is the thing.

Mindfulness (Sati) sees things as they really are. It adds nothing to perception and it subtracts nothing. It distorts nothing. It is bare attention and just looks at whatever comes up. Conscious thought loves to paste things over our experience, to load us down with concepts and ideas, to immerse us in a churning vortex of plans and worries, fears and fantasies. When mindful, you don’t play that game. You just notice exactly what arises in the mind, then you notice the next thing. “Ah, this… and this… and now this.” It is really very simple.

Mindfulness (Sati) sees the true nature of all phenomena. Mindfulness and only Mindfulness can perceive the three prime characteristics that Buddhism teaches are the deepest truth of existence. In Pali these three are called Annica (impermanence), Dukkha (unsatisfactoriness), and Anatta (selflessness – the absence of a permanent, unchanging, entity that we call soul or self). These truths, by the way, are not presented in Buddhist teaching as dogmas subject to blind faith. The Buddhists feel that these truths are universal and self-evident to anyone who cares to investigate in a proper way. Mindfulness is that method of investigation. Mindfulness alone has the power to reveal the deepest level of reality available to human observation. At this level of inspection, one sees the following: (a) All conditioned things are inherently transitory; (b) every worldly thing is, in the end, unsatisfying; and (c) there are really no entities that are unchanging or permanent, only processes.

Mindfulness works like an electron microscope. That is, it operates on so fine a level that one can actually see directly those realities which are at best theoretical constructs to the conscious thought process. Mindfulness actually sees the impermanent character of every perception. It sees the transitory and passing nature of everything that is perceived. It also sees the inherently unsatisfactory nature of all conditioned things. It sees that there is no sense grabbing onto any of these passing shows. Peace and happiness just cannot be found that way. And finally, Mindfulness sees the inherent selflessness of all phenomena. It sees the way we have arbitrarily selected a certain bundle of perceptions, chopped them off from the rest of the surging flow of experience and then conceptualized them as separate, enduring, entities. Mindfulness actually sees these things. It does not think about them, it sees them directly.

When it is fully developed, Mindfulness sees these three attributes of existence directly, instantaneously, and without the intervening medium of conscious thought. In fact, even the attributes which we just covered are inherently arbitrary. They don’t really exist as separate items. They are purely the result of our struggle to take this fundamentally simple process called Mindfulness and express it in the cumbersome and inherently unsuitable thought symbols of the conscious level. Mindfulness is a PROCESS, but it does not take place in steps. It is a wholistic process that occurs as a unit: you notice your own lack of Mindfulness; and that noticing itself is a result of Mindfulness; and Mindfulness is bare attention; and bare attention is noticing things exactly as they are without distortion; and the way they are is Anicca, Dukkha, and Anatta (impermananent, unsatisfactory, and self-less). It all takes place in a flash-bang. This does not mean, however, that you will instantly attain liberation (freedom from all human weaknesses) as a result of your first moment of Mindfulness. Learning to integrate this material into your conscious life is another whole process. And learning to prolong this state of Mindfulness is still another. They are joyous processes, however, and they are well worth the effort.

MINDFULNESS (SATI) AND INSIGHT (VIPASSANA) MEDITATION

Mindfulness is the center of Vipassana meditation and the key to the whole process. It is both the goal of this meditation and the means to that end. You reach Mindfulness by being ever more mindful. One other Pali word that is translated into English as Mindfulness is Appamada, which means non- negligence or an absence of madness. One who attends constantly to what is really going on in one;s mind achieves the state of ultimate sanity.
The Pali term ‘Sati’ also bears the connotation of remembering. It is not memory in the sense of ideas and pictures from the past, but rather clear, direct, wordless knowing of what is and what is not, of what is correct and what is incorrect, of what we are doing and how we should go about it. Mindfulness (Sati) reminds the meditator to apply his attention to the proper object at the proper time and to exert precisely the amount of energy needed to do that job. When this energy is properly applied, the meditator stays constantly in a state of calmness and alertness. As long as this condition is maintained, those mind-states called ‘hindrances’ or ‘psychic irritants’ cannot arise – there is no greed, no hatred, no lust or laziness. But we are all human and we all goof. Most of us are very human and we goof repeatedly. Despite honest effort, the meditator lets his Mindfulness slip now and then and he finds himself stuck in some nasty, but normal, human failure. It is Mindfulness that notices that change. And it is Mindfulness that reminds him to apply the energy required to pull himself out of the soup. These slips happen over and over, but their frequency decreases with practice. Once Mindfulness has pushed these mental defilements aside, more wholesome states of mind can take their place. Hatred makes way for loving kindness, lust is replaced by detachment. It is Mindfulness which notices this change, too, and which reminds the Vipassana meditator to maintain that extra little mental sharpness needed to keep these more desirable states of mind. Mindfulness makes possible the growth of wisdom and compassion. Without Mindfulness they cannot develop to full maturity.

Deeply buried in the mind, there lies a mental mechanism which accepts what the mind perceives as beautiful and pleasant experiences and rejects those experiences which are perceived as ugly and painful. This mechanism gives rise to those states of mind which we are training ourselves to avoid – things like greed, lust, hatred, aversion, and jealousy. We choose to avoid these hindrances, not because they are evil in the normal sense of the word, but because they are compulsive; because they take the mind over and capture the attention completely; because they keep going round and round in tight little circles of thought; and because they seal us off from living reality.

These hamperings cannot arise when Mindfulness is present. Mindfulness is attention to present time reality, and therefore, directly antithetical to the dazed state of mind which characterizes the impediments. As meditators, it is only when we let our Mindfulness slip that the deep mechanisms of our minds take over – grasping, clinging and rejecting. Then resistance emerges and obscures our awareness. We do not notice that the change is taking place – we are too busy with a thought of revenge, or greed, whatever it may be. While an untrained person will continue inn this state indefinitely, a trained meditator will soon realize what is happening. It is Mindfulness that notices the change. It is Mindfulness that remembers the training received ad that focuses our attention so that the confusion fades away. And it is Mindfulness that then attempts to maintain itself indefinitely so that the resistance cannot arise again. Thus, Mindfulness is the specific antidote for hindrances. It is both the cure and the preventive measure.

Fully developed Mindfulness (Sati) is a state of total non-attachment and utter absence of clinging to anything in the world. If we can maintain this state, no other means or device is needed to keep ourselves free of obstructions, to achieve liberation from our human weaknesses. Mindfulness is non-superficial awareness. It sees things deeply, down below the level of concepts and opinions. This sort of deep observation leads to total certainty, a complete absence of confusion. It manifests itself primarily as a constant and unwavering attention which never flags an which never turns away.

This pure and unstained investigative awareness not only holds the fetters at bay, it lays bare their very mechanism and destroys them. Mindfulness neutralizes defilements in the mind. The result is a mind which remains unstained and invulnerable, completely unaffected by the ups and downs of life.

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