by Susan Kapatoes, MHA,CPC
I am standing in the supermarket line, and I am doing something extraordinary. I am patiently observing the cashier as she scans each grocery item of the customer in front of me. I am, non-judgmentally, browsing the headlines of the tabloid newspapers that are displayed within reading distance.
I am inextricably part of this life experience, yet not absorbed in it. I am not creating emotional opinions about the people nor the environment which surrounds me. I am not wishing that the cashier would work faster. I am not thinking about my next errand.
I am here now, paying attention to this sacred moment; acutely aware of the freedom that I am feeling by not holding judgments or expectations of the experience itself. The realization is eye-opening, and I feel grateful for being cognizant of it.
The event that I just described is the very essence of mindfulness. It is being mindful of your present situation without forming a strong attachment to it, especially on an emotional level. The concept of mindfulness is simple but can be challenging to execute on a consistent basis due to the busyness of our daily lives.
Even though the gist of mindfulness is straightforward, most people have different definitions regarding its meaning. When I first heard of mindfulness, I thought that it meant to have a mind full of something – whether that be anxieties, worries, and to-do lists or happiness, joy, and peace. Each time that I repeated the word to myself, it seemed to imply that a ‘full mind’ was a beneficial quality to develop, and, depending upon the scenario, this mental state can be useful.
For example, if you are preparing to write a thesis paper, you will need to perform major research in order to accumulate large amounts of evidence to support your proposition. This type of task does require one to fill their mind with knowledge, statistics, and scientific facts in order to establish their hypothesis.
But in the area of self-help and personal development, the word mindfulness denotes quite another meaning. Because of my own ambiguity surrounding this topic, I will help to clarify this practice by sharing another a-ha moment that I experienced while taking a yoga class.
What follows are the notes that I jotted down immediately afterward, when I was feeling gratitude and appreciation for what had just transpired.
About half-way through today’s yoga class, there was a shift in my perception. My awareness became heightened as I completely focused my attention within the present classroom environment. The moments elongated as I reveled in the simple joy of the experience. Yes, time appeared to be stretching itself to maximum capacity. There was only the uplifting atmosphere and motivating presence of the yoga teacher.
All else was blurred from my perception. I was hyper-concentrated on the here-and-now which was blissful and sweet. Like a light bulb brightening a room, the realization illuminated my awareness. I felt thankful for the gifts that were right before my eyes.
At the very end of this class, we did the final Shavasana pose which consists of lying down on our backs in complete relaxation to rest our bodies after the workout. I have done this pose hundreds of times, but the instructor said something interesting as we were preparing to enter the posture. She eloquently stated, “stillness awaits you, now is the time to lie down in Shavasana.”
The words “stillness awaits you” struck a chord of remembrance within my being. Suddenly, the posture felt brand new. I felt so welcomed by these words that I could not wait to be embraced by the peace that awaited our participation. I thought, yes, stillness awaits us because it is already within us. This is what the instructor meant by “stillness awaits you.” If we take the time to tune into our center, our soul, and our divine spirit, then we will connect to the true essence of our core being which is stillness.
After class, as this awareness was moving through my consciousness, my mind kept flashing back to the days when I first started doing yoga. As a beginner, I was impatient and found it difficult to cultivate a sense of inner peace. It took some time to get to this beautiful feeling that I was experiencing today, but the good news is that it is attainable.
Before fully surrendering to this act of mindfulness, I was in a continual mode of anticipation instead of appreciation, wondering what time the class would be over instead of savoring my time within it. My consciousness was not perceiving this session as a gift to be enjoyed, but rather a chore to be performed.
All it took was a change in perception for the gifts to be revealed, for the gratitude to be released, for the experience to be relished. In truth, harmony and stillness are an inherent part of our being. These innate qualities are simply waiting to be acknowledged for their wonderful presence, and the tool of mindfulness allows us to be aware of their existence.
In 2014 and 2017, the cover of Time Magazine highlighted the topic of mindfulness, showing just how prevalent this topic of discussion has become throughout mainstream America. But mindfulness has been around for much longer than our current timeframe. Did you know this topic is one element of the Noble Eightfold Path of the Buddhist tradition? Buddhism was founded in approximately 6th century B.C., and here we are, still talking about mindfulness. So what exactly is all this discussion about?
Here is a brief overview of the eight Buddhist practices of the Noble Eightfold Path:
- Right View – being aware that our actions have consequences; this awareness allows us to possess the insight to karma, rebirth, and the nature of our reality.
- Right Resolve – having the right intention, i.e. giving up worldly desires such as power and greed to adopt peace, kindness, and compassion towards our fellow human beings.
- Right Speech – our words have consequences. Thoughtful communication helps to unite others, heal dissension, and move us closer to everyday compassionate living.
- Right Conduct – living in a moral and ethical way. This step on the path also includes a whole approach to the environment, with right action being taken to safeguard the world for future generations.
- Right Livelihood – job/purpose/service-to-others. Certain types of work were discouraged by the Buddha such as those dealing in weapons, and those harmful to animal or human life.
- Right Effort – right attitude. Akin to the strings of a musical instrument, the amount of effort should not be too tense or too impatient, nor too slack or too laid back. In order to produce Right Effort, clear and honest thoughts should be welcomed; feelings of jealousy and anger left behind.
- Right Mindfulness – All forms of Buddhist meditation help to develop mindfulness; Buddhists train themselves to stay alert to the present experience. They observe their thoughts then release them without judgement.
- Right Samadhi – a “single-pointedness of mind”; concentrating the mind on a single sensation or object to the point of absorption. All sense of “self” disappears with the subject and object becoming completely assimilated into each other.
The Buddha mentions four frames of reference in mindfulness: (1) mindfulness of body, (2) mindfulness of feelings, (3) mindfulness of mind, and (4) mindfulness of dharma.
Mindfulness of Body is being fully aware of your bodily functions, your muscles, and your breathing. The breath is an important factor to mindfulness of the body. During meditation, it is common practice to focus on your breathing. This is usually the first “exercise” for training the mind.
We discipline our mind to follow the natural process of breathing by allowing ourselves to merge into the sensation of breath, following it through exhale. If you practice meditation regularly, you will find yourself returning to the breath throughout the day. When you feel stress or anger arising, acknowledge it and come back to your breathing. It’s very calming.
Mindfulness of Feelings is the practice of recognizing and acknowledging your feelings without being attached to them. By not attaching to your feelings, you are acknowledging that the feeling or sensation is not a “thing” that you possess. There is just a feeling passing through you.
It is healthy to be aware of your own emotions and not suppress them. As human beings we are very good at ignoring emotions that we don’t want to feel, but doing this could cause problems and can even make us physically ill. If you are feeling a less-than-happy emotion such as anger, it is best to acknowledge the sensation, observe it, and then allow it pass through you without judgment.
Mindfulness of Mind is the process of observing mental states as they come and go, realizing how transitory and temporary these states are. Awareness of the mind involves paying attention to yourself in a detached way. Is there calmness, or agitation? Is there focus, or distraction? Do not analyze your thoughts or form opinions. Simply observe.
Mindfulness of Dharma is being aware of your state of self-realization. Dharma encompasses a wide definition. It has been described as the force which upholds the nature of the universe as well as the ability to enter Nirvana and attain personal enlightenment. To the extent that it can be explained, dharma can be interpreted as both the essential nature of reality as well as the teachings and practices that enable the realization of that essential nature.
To envision the evolvement of mindfulness, I would like you to imagine a world where humanity is completely in tune with one another. Each person is telepathic which means that we can read each other’s minds and use this ability to create a positive outcome. Being telepathic is a wonderful way to communicate because we would, by default, be mindful all the time. We would not only be aware of ourselves, we would be aware of others as well: their temperament, feelings, and most of all, their intentions.
The transparency would help to facilitate a world where darkness would not be able to hide because peoples’ true nature would be exposed. How can there be deceit if an individual’s motives are known before he or she has the chance to implement them? Imagine a humanity living in joy, harmony, and unity with one another because the ability to realize such a community will be supported by like-minded people interested in working together for the benefit of the whole.
If you think that telepathy is located in the distant future, then I will refer you to a study done by Yale Scientific in 2015. In this research, scientists were able to transmit words from the brain of one research participant in India to three other participants in France. This study marked the first time conscious thoughts were transmitted directly between individuals, offering foresight into the higher intelligence of the human race.
In the Buddhist tradition, mindfulness is seen as the practice of being aware of the present moment in a non-judgmental manner. It is bringing one’s complete attention to the here and now by observing the experience without forming opinions about it. From my perspective, this is mindfulness in its purest form: simply being in the present, alert and aware, yet releasing all preconceptions and expectations.
In our current world, mindfulness is alive and well. The great quality about mindfulness is that it can be practiced by anyone, regardless of religious background or beliefs. We can all benefit by feeling appreciation and gratitude for the everyday gifts that life has to offer: relishing the warmth of the sun on a cold winter’s day, hearing the unexpected laughter of a child, or savoring the stillness during a yoga class.
There are endless opportunities to be mindful of the moment, mindful of yourself, and mindful of others. If everyone practiced the concepts of this technique, our planet would reflect more harmony and prosperity for all of humanity. In the future, there will be additional ways to practice the art of mindfulness, ones that are in concert with our higher-self and elevated states of reality.