More About What is Mindfulness?
In the course of human history, there have been a broad range of schools of mindfulness--in both spiritual and secular scenes. This state of awareness has been a central practice of aboriginal shamans on all continents, as well as spiritual masters through their disciplic successions in the great religious traditions of the world. And in our modern times, certain schools of philosophers, psychotherapists, and healers of many kinds have adopted mindfulness and explored its uses in the context of ordinary life.
Books on mindfulness that have been coming out in recent years (see "Suggested Reading" in the site Library) have been demonstrating the usefulness of mindfulness in medicine, personal growth, sports, parenting, and human relations.
Mindfulness has even been found to be a powerful tool in helping people who are dying become able to find peace and meaning in their final days. For mindfulness gives a new kind of meaning to those who learn to practice this state. It is the meaning of simply experiencing, knowing directly with the five ordinary human senses, and seeing the world with new eyes--calm, in focus, and objective . . . able to bring the "suchness" of life the way it simply is (the phenomenological reality) into sharp clarity and high relief.
"Mindfulness" is the term that Western Buddhists have generally come to use for this experience. This has become the most widely known and recognized term for the awakened state of consciousness in America today through the popular books about mindfulness that several Buddhist masters have recently written. Perhaps pre-eminent among these authors today is Thich Nhat Hanh, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, a Zen Buddhist monk, to whom many sites that you can visit on the Web are devoted (see the Library).
There have always been certain schools among the Buddhist monasteries which have specialized in "sudden" methods of learning and practicing mindfulness. The Buddha's name means "being awakened." There is every indication that the practices he, himself, knew--known now as Vipassana insight meditation--employed these same "sudden" methods--which entail taking the awareness of the meditative state, as practiced in meditation halls, up off the cushion with eyes wide open, out the door, and out into the ordinary events of everyday life. The "awareness game" that is taught here in the kindergarten is an example of one such "sudden" method.
Coming into mindfulness is really like "waking up." P.D. Ouspensky, who learned this experience from G. I. Gurdjieff, likened it to "coming to." It is like waking up out of a trance--that is, "waking up" out of the ordinary state of human consciousness that we are all so used to and know about every day. Mindfulness is like suddenly gaining "presence of mind" out of distraction.
This "waking up" is *actually* like a light coming on. One's five ordinary senses immediately become vivified and sharpened. One sees things much more acutely than ordinary, and one hears more sharply and clearly. Also, one smells and tastes much more acutely than is ordinary, and one feels with one's sense of touch in a clarified and focused manner. One becomes experientially *in touch* with the world around them and within. These facts are why this experience is sometimes called "enlightenment," with a small "e"--that is, en-light-enment.
Christians have used many terms for this awakened experience, that can be found in the New Testament and in the Gnostic Gospels, as well. Jesus was frequently telling people to "wake up." The early Gnostics differed from the Orthodox teachers in saying that we are to enjoy this experience of awakening in *this life,* and not in the beyond. They said that knowing God comes from one's own interior experiences, whereas the Clergy of their time said knowing God came from their preaching of intellectual interpretations of the ineffable wisdom of the words in the Bible. Many religious mystics have followed over the centuries and taken the part of the gnostics on this issue. (See "Christian Mysticism" in the Library.)
Other such divisions over the way of "profound," "inspired," "cosmic" "sacred" discovery have followed over the centuries. Among Muslims, it has been the mystical sects of Sufis who have followed the experiential path of awareness. Among Jews, certain mystical sects were always present, leading into our modern times and the views of Hassidic existentialist Martin Buber.
Among philosophers, the paths of Aristotle and Descartes have illustrated the paths of "orthodoxy." And the mystical approach has become embodied in the works of certain philosophers who apparently "fell into" the knowledge of the awakened state in their private contemplations of the ontology of existence--among these, in more modern times, Edmund Husserl and Jean-Paul Sartre. Descartes said, "I think, therefor I am." Husserl said, "I experience, therefor I am."
Nowadays, the secrets of mindful awareness are beginning to get out among people at large. The Teaching Tools for Mindfulness Training web site is dedicated to sharing this knowledge, and making it available to anyone who would like to know.
All the words for mindfulness that are used in different cultural approaches that teach this experience are like metaphors of the experience itself. And yet, without having had the actual experience, a person ordinarily cannot grasp what these words are metaphors of. "Self-remembering." "Being in the here and now." "Awakening." "Being in aware presence."
Understanding this usually takes training of a special kind (such as this school is here to share). This training involves both conceptual explanations of points that have to be understood, and experiential exercises. These exercises enable a student to catch-on to what the experience of mindfulness is, and learn how to employ it in exploring the world around, the world within.
This training can teach a person how to be able to use mindfulness to have a more peaceful life, a more harmonious life, and a life in which their innate natural skills and abilities are greatly magnified. This should not be looked upon, therefor, as a passive endeavor. Learning mindfulness provides one with a great power . . . so long as one can learn to remember to love. For this will give a practical tool to nearly anyone who is interested in it (anyone who will do the work of learning and the practice, and is willing to learn how to love) for excelling in the actions that one likes and loves the most.