Mindfulness, as mental health practice, or psychological hygiene, is becoming increasingly popular. It is being used for treating trauma, anxiety, depression and various mood disorders and dysregulations. Mindfulness has been around a long, long, very long, time and is, essentially, meditation. Meditation is traditionally about realization and liberation, freedom from the manacles of the mind. Along the way, there can be numerable mental and physical health benefits. There is valid research showing psychological and physiological improvements. There is no real cost involved, it can be done just about at any time and in any place. It can calm nerves and soothe anxieties rather quickly, if done properly….
The purpose of this article is to present the most basic framework of proper mindfulness meditation. It is really very easy because awareness is the essential fabric of the mind, and mindfulness is just being aware, of awareness in process. Even as you read these words, you are aware, and may even be aware that you are aware of reading these words. However mindfulness can also be difficult because our human awareness is deeply patterned to be aware of, attached to, and identify with, objects, things. Awareness by itself, without any objects, without any thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations, is described as Pure Awareness. This pure awareness underlies all our experience. Without it, we are not aware of anything. This basic, fundamental, essential pure awareness is likened to the sky on a cloudless day. Objects of awareness, the various things awareness attaches to and identifies itself with, primarily thoughts and emotions, are like clouds.
Mindfulness is about being like the sky and observing, watching, witnessing, the clouds of thought and emotion. These clouds of our inner world can be compelling; they can be very captivating pulling our attention into some dramatic scenario; or they can be rather boring and irritating, mundane or disturbing. We just let it be as it is, as it goes, watching, observing, witnessing like the sky looking at the clouds. It’s not dissimilar to daydreaming, or like being a kid laying on the ground looking up at the sky and watching the clouds. The difference is in our approach, our attitude, and our attention. Attention is like the pupil of an eye expanding, taking in more, or contracting, taking in less. The mind can focus the attention of awareness on specifics and details. And, the mind can release the tension of attention, and simply be like the sky, observing whatever clouds of thought and emotion may pass by.
Mindfulness is a procedure to practice. Get the basics down correctly, and then you can do it effectively and rightly any where, any time, within less than a few minutes, and feel better. The idea, however, is to make it part of daily psychological hygiene.
Begin a practice of mindfulness meditation when you have time and are not rushed, preferably alone, or in a quiet space, perhaps your own room, on the porch, even in a car (not while driving, at least initially). Sitting, comfortably in a chair, be aware of yourself there, sitting, in a chair; just be attentive to you, your body, right there; take a full deep breath in and then exhale fully. Feel it. Do it one more time. Relax, just be there. Notice things. Any things. External things. Internal things. There is no specific object of awareness necessary. There is no thing more or less important. Anything will do. Eyes can be closed, or open. Closed is the norm. When closed, the objects of awareness, the things we observe are, primarily, thoughts. Thoughts are words and pictures, sounds and sights. Generally, there are feelings and emotions associated with these words and pictures; a kind of endless audiovisual and kinaesthetic visceral virtual experience goes on within the mind. It is as if the sky of the mind is filled with active clouds of subjective experience, various things, objects of awareness, creating the ever moving landscape of our inner world. This inner landscape, whether scenic or bland, obscures the sky, to the point the sky believes it is the landscape. Be the sky. Observe the landscape. Be awareness. Observe the content contained in the mind.
We are designed to be aware of objects, of things. Those objects become dominant; the sky-mind nature, which is pure awareness, awareness without an object, is obscured. Mindfulness is adopting the position of ‘myself as awareness’ while objects of awareness are viewed as ‘not-me.’ Just as you know the tree, car, buildings, people, everything you see, and hear in the outer world is not you, so too the thoughts and emotions, the words, pictures, feelings and emotions in the mind which you typically do identify with as you, is also not you. You are pure awareness, awareness without an object, awareness of no thing. All that fills the mind are objects-of-awareness, which captivate our attention, and to which we identify with as ‘me.’
Mood disorders and emotional dysregulation are not uncommon symptoms of trauma. Trauma is a Greek word that means ‘wound.’ Who has not been wounded, both physically and psychologically? Big wounds, little wounds, wounds that last a long time, wounds that heal quickly, wounds that cut deep, or go on and on. We all have some wounds; as a result, there are going to be disorders, discomforts, diseases and distortions in our life. And yet, no matter how intense or severe, mundane or pedestrian, these wounds are still objects of awareness. Awareness itself is untouched and unhurt. The clouds of our inner world, the wounds, the traumas, are ‘not me.’ I am the sky, pure awareness, without an object-of-awareness. And yet, we are generally very attached to and deeply identify ourselves with the objects of awareness which, to a large degree, is the problem.
There is absolutely no goal when doing mindfulness meditation. There is no agenda when being mindful. It is about ‘be here now.’ Whatever thought-clouds are shaping, forming, moving, changing, rising, falling, is acceptable. Be there with it. Observe it. Take a deep full breath or two, and witness it. So, you’re comfortably sitting; you’ve taken a couple of deep full in and out breaths. You are settling into your position, your posture, relaxing into it, getting comfortable. And there you are, in the basic meditation position ready to be consciously mindful, consciously aware of all the objects-of-awareness that fill the container of your mind. There may be times when the attention of awareness is absorbed by some specific details. We can find ourselves completely focused in some mental scenario like being drawn into a motion picture. We can get caught up in all kinds of replay about the day, some past event, or situation on the horizon, in which we evaluate, judge criticize and worry about whatever we might be seeing, and hearing, as objects of awareness in which we are completely absorbed, attached to, and identify with. That is okay. When you remember that you are now practicing conscious mindfulness meditation, you will, in a natural, easy-going effortless shift of consciousness, adopt this position of calm, relaxed observing, watching, witnessing, breathing, feeling, seeing, hearing, aware of, anything contained within the vast realm of our own mind….. Just be there with it. This moment of recognition that one is lost in the meanderings of the wandering mind, and rekindle that spark of mindfulness, is a repetitive process, like training a dog to stay. It is a practice. The more you wander and return, the more you become fluent with coming back; it becomes easier and quicker and after some time you stay more than wander. You again become the sky like mind of awareness observing clouds of objects, thoughts, emotions, words, pictures, feelings. Using attention to specifically focus on designated objects of awareness is part of mindfulness practice. However, the most basic, fundamental position is to let the wandering mind go where it will, and to be casually, effortlessly, comfortably aware of its movements.
Just as our awareness is designed to be aware of objects, so to our everyday mind is geared towards activity, productivity, achievement and accumulation. As such, a lot of content contained in the mind is related to these. Thoughts and emotions around how we are, have been, will be productive or effective, and criticisms about our own behavior, as well others, may pass through the sky of the mind as if a scene in a novel. We observe it. See it. We don’t try to change it, write a script or create an outcome. We don’t push them away. We don’t hold onto them. There may be pleasant memories of past successes, achievements, rewards, friends and lovers. There may be disturbing conjectures of later on, regrets of past actions, conflicts unresolved. There can be a host of unpleasant moods such as disappointment, sadness, confusion. We casually, calmly, without effort or strain, observe these thought clouds swirling in and around the container of our mind. During mindfulness, we accept any object of awareness as okay. Positive thoughts, negative thoughts, silly thoughts, profound thoughts, crazy thoughts, nonsense chatter, memories, fantasies….and any number of feeling states that go along with those thoughts, is okay; everything contained in the mind is an object of awareness, and okay. It is not me. I am awareness without an object.
And so it goes, we are sitting, relatively comfortable. The body is at rest. There is nothing to do right now, and there is nowhere to go right now. And we begin to notice the clouds, the objects-of-awareness: thoughts, words, images, feelings, fleeting, changing, one leading to another, incessantly. And that is all okay. All that we notice, all that we observe internally, or externally, are objects-of-awareness. I am awareness without an object.
The mind manacles that mindfulness removes is our attachment to and identity with objects-of-awareness as who we are. Taking away objects of awareness, as our object of identity, is kind of like taking off clothes; there is a kind nakedness associated with pure awareness; we could say the sky without clouds is the naked sky. Our attachment to and identity with objects-of-awareness is so very often the source of our pain, hurt, confusion, sorrow, disorders and dysregulations. If I am feeling depressed, I say I am depressed. That’s like the sky saying it is the clouds. The sky is not the clouds. Awareness is not depressed. Depression is an experience as an object of awareness. We are aware of it, we are not it. The statement I am depressed becomes I am aware of depression. The statement I am bored becomes I am aware of boredom. Whatever the emotion, we are not it, we are aware of it. Whatever goes on in the mind, whatever cloud-like words, pictures, feelings pass through the sky of the mind, they are all objects of awareness, not awareness itself.
Sit down with nothing to do, no agenda, no goal, no objective. To just sit, and be awareness, aware of thoughts and emotions in the mind, which is mindfulness meditation, can itself be anxiety producing. There can be psychological dis-ease and dis-comfort. We like to be doing things. We may even be addicted or compelled to be doing, something, anything. Mindfulness meditation is not doing, it is being. It’s simple. It’s already there. You are a human being. That being is you. It cannot be developed or improved upon. It is free, unfettered, unobstructed, like the sky without clouds. It is because our identity is manacled to objects of awareness, including all of our mental conclusions, beliefs, and values, our body, our possessions, we suffer. Extrication from those manacles through mindfulness meditaiton can be challenging. Sooner or later, it requires patience, tolerance, kindness, compassion, and understanding, all of which are qualities of the heart, beyond mere concepts in the mind.
Read the next post in the series Mind Manacles & Mindfulness – The Breath