By Sara Hirtenstein BHSc
The practice of what is known at the present time as ‘mindfulness’, sometimes described as ‘appreciative awareness’, allows us to reconnect with the ground of very being, allowing action to flow from embodied, unified awareness. From this ‘seat’ of calm stability and connection the mind-heart is more receptive to the presence of reality as it shows Itself in all its guises, moment by moment, open to all experience, without judgment.
One of the actions of mindfulness ‘practice’ is guarding the heart, learning to exercise discernment and discrimination over what is allowed to enter the heart. This is learned by witnessing the ceaseless movement of thoughts, feelings, images and impulses in the mind-heart, the feltsense of emotions and physical sensations in the body, as passing ‘events’ (visitors) and not permanent, fixed or constituting our true, essential identity or reality. Mindfulness also draws out and cultivates our innate attitudes and qualities of kindness, compassion and friendship towards our ‘self’ and relaxes and releases tendencies to inner and outer criticism, blame and judgment, allowing clear-seeing of impediments, whether attitudes, assumptions and beliefs or the ingrained, habitual thinking patterns we have learned to hold onto over time.
It is embedded in all the wisdom traditions, though renowned especially through Buddhism, where it is considered the heart of meditation. In the original Pali and Sanskrit languages the word means “to remember” or “not to forget”. The meaning of mindfulness is expounded in the Satipatthana Sutta (Discourses on the Foundation of Mindfulness). However it is equally implicit and practiced as an essential way of being on the Path in all the major wisdom traditions as the innate capacity and potential of human beings to be intentionally and constantly aware (of Reality) as it actually is, when not coloured by our aversions and attachments, or our desires for It to be different. (See in particular Ibn Arabi’s Kernel of the Kernel and Theophany of Perfection; the paper by Osman Fazli and Rumi’s The Guesthouse poem.)
Present-day mindfulness is a confluence of ancient wisdom and modern science. Mindfulness and meditation is at the cutting edge of neuroscience research: what wise meditation practitioners have always known as the ‘benefits’ are now confirmed and actually seen with the aid of modern technology (eg MRI scans). Scientists can now see what’s happening inside the brain (and understand the consequent impact on the body and being) during meditation: the calming and shrinking of the reactive and threat- response areas of the brain, the increase of gray matter in the prefrontal cortex associated with attention, discrimination, emotional intelligence and executive functioning, and the higher activity in the areas associated with soothing, empathy and compassion.
Integrative Medicine research is discovering and witnessing wholeness, how the mind and body acts as one, that the mind can heal the body; and that genes are not fixed and their expression can be changed by the action of regular meditation and intentional focused awareness - and so on. So beautiful examples of unity are being discovered through scientific investigations into the inner world of the body-mind-heart.
The mindful awareness perspective is of the unity, wholeness and oneness of all life, and that nothing is outside of that, that we can experience this directly. It cultivates the view that all is essentially well, that there is more right with us than wrong as long as we are breathing, and that every person is essentially sacred.
It has several intentions: cutting through the illusion of a separately existing/acting ‘self’; cultivating clear-seeing of habitual and learned thinking patterns; cultivating restraint and pause, to allow space for natural insight and wisdom to arise, so responding instead of reacting; returning focus to the present moment when we’re caught up in past, future or present-time rumination, self-narrative and analysis; and cultivating flourishing, appreciation and gratitude for the beauty and goodness of life, and how we can savour the small simple things we so easily miss. Building a safe, calm inner foundation of resilience, acceptance and equanimity while navigating the trials, challenges and ups and downs which are unavoidable while we live on this earth – all of these being doors leading to gifts from the unknown and self-knowledge.
Mindfulness was deliberately developed at the present time to have a universal applicability in a form that can be accessed by all people with willingness to learn, and to include those who no familiarity with, or have no wish to necessarily follow a spiritual or religious way, but are seeking inner peace and contentment.
Participants discover how to shift to the Mindful-Being Mode as opposed to habitually living in a more “Driven-Doing Mode”. This could allow a more contemplative approach to study, able to settle below the thinking mind and be more open to taste the spacious limitless mind-heart, open to clarity, insight and inner-seeing.
￼￼“Perhaps ultimately, spiritual simply means experiencing wholeness and
￼￼interconnectedness directly, a seeing that individuality and the totality are interwoven,
￼that nothing is separate or extraneous.
￼If you see in this way, then everything becomes spiritual in its deepest sense.
￼Doing science is spiritual. So is washing the dishes.”
(Jon Kabat-Zinn, pioneer of contemporary mindfulness)