Mindfulness is not a new topic. The idea has been around for thousands of years. However, it is new to the psychological literature. Still, terms relating to mindfulness have been thrown around for years, such as emotion and attention regulation, cognitive reframing, emotion approach coping, etc. However, many of the psychological terms come with connotations of control, whereas, mindfulness typical connotes acceptance. In short, it is non-judgmental awareness. In other words, being mindful is what allows us to experience the authentic self, rather than come from the place of the psychologically conditioned past, otherwise known as the ego.
Be Mindful of Reality
Many spiritual teachers have suggested we live in a dream world. Why? Consider that pure awareness is the place where “reality” occurs, and everything else is a dream. For example, by the time we perceive an object that object is already in the past. Why is this? Simple. It is due to the time lag between awareness and perception. Even if the perception of the object occurs only milliseconds after becoming aware we are looking at it, it is still in the past. Therefore, it is “unreal” in our perception because it is not happening in the present moment. Instead, it is a picture of the past created by the mind. It is by being mindful of this reality that allows us to act independent of it and live an authentic life.
In his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig suggested that life is not a duality between mind and matter; rather, it is a trinity including mind, matter, and quality. The author went on to suggest that quality is the parent of mind and matter, saying that before an object can be perceived, there must be a non intellectual awareness. He referred to this as “awareness of quality.” Pirsig wrote, “Since all intellectually identifiable things must emerge from this preintellectual reality, quality is the parent, the source of all subjects and objects.”
Although I agree with much of what the author had to say, I am not sure the word “quality” even need be brought into the discussion. It seems that pure awareness is just that: pure. There can be no words to describe that place because it comes before words, or even thought, or even before perception itself! To me, this does indeed indicate we are living in a dream world, unless of course we are coming from the place of pure awareness, which is in the present moment, in the absence of thought, where reality exists.
The Big Picture of Energy Flow and Stress Management
Consider the following: Energy flows as energy goes. We can redirect it through cognizing about it, but it is taxing to the system to do so. Energy flows constantly through all things. When we ruminate over an event it traps that energy by using it to process both thought and emotion. We are capturing this energy because it must be available in order to think in the first place. And certainly it must be available in the body to be able to feel the emotion as it arises.
This energy, of course, originally comes from the sun and is stored in plants through photosynthesis. Then, it is redirected when animals consume the plants. In turn, the animals use the energy to direct their bodies through the environment. We, of course, are animals who bring in energy through consumption of plants and other animals, then use the energy to function. This functioning includes thinking.
So, it stands to reason that we would become stressed by storing more energy than we release. This is why stress management, when it comes down to it, is a matter of learning how to release stored energy (this was discussed in detail in book 1 of the series). Some people release it through physical activity. Others release the energy through cognitive exercises such as practicing acceptance, using cognitive reframing (which basically means to perceive the situation differently), or cognizing to problem solve. In either case, the energy is released because the releasing activity disengages the mind from the ruminating process. This approach can allow us to come to acceptance, as in the case with cognitive reframing, thereby allowing the mind and body to release the energy that was once being used to cognate in the first place.
Mindfulness is Present Moment Awareness
Instead of inadvertently storing the energy through rumination, we can choose to direct attention to the feeling itself and allow it to do what it will. In turn, we become very present. Putting attention fully in the moment is the way to enter flow, which is the life current that flows through everything and everyone. Flow is in between thought, therefore, thought disrupts the flow of pure consciousness, that is, if it has emotional energy attached to it. If not, the thoughts will merely float by like clouds passing in the sky. When we become adept at noticing thoughts and feeling bodily sensations while keeping those two things separate, then we can live in the flow of life and experience a more joyful existence.
What does it mean to travel at the speed of life? It means that at times, it is important to “stop and smell the roses,” as the saying goes. In other words, because our society tends to move so fast in this technological age, it is imperative to slow down and turn attention to the surrounding environment, without worrying about “tripping” on something, metaphorically speaking. This varies according to terrain of course. Sometimes in life there are many obstacles to navigate around. More often than not, however, these “obstacles” turn out to be blessings in disguise.
Breathe and Clear the Mind…
Another key aspect of traveling at the speed of life is to stop and follow the breath on occasion. Every now and then we can turn all attention to the breath and check and see if we are breathing comfortably. This is a great way to maintain a relaxed state. It is also quite helpful as a type of anchor, or a way to return to the present moment of now, whether during a restful pause or a challenging event. Turning attention to the breath can disengage the thought pattern, whatever that may be.
Let’s return for a moment to the term “mindfulness.” What is mindfulness? I used to think of the term as somewhat of an oxymoron. When one is mindful the mind is often times empty. Therefore, it could easily be thought of as mindless. However, the term “mindless” has negative connotations. And it would still be a misnomer. The mind does not have to be full or empty for us to be mindful. It simply must be open and alert and attentive to the present moment.
I have read the perspective of a few who consider mindfulness to mean “full of awareness.” That resonates with me. The more mindful one is, the more aware of present moment thoughts, emotions, motivations, desires, etc. In contrast, the less mindful one is, the less aware of those same aspects of experiential reality. The reason? Because one is more full of thought (inner dialog, voice in the head, mind chatter, etc.) leaving less room for pure consciousness, or complete present moment awareness. In other words, because the mind is empty of thoughts it is full of awareness, hence, Mind-full. Eliminating stress begins with becoming aware of thoughts and emotions without acting on them. To do this we must be present in each moment. And to do that, we must be here now!