Meditation, Yoga Philosophy

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the new buzzword for an old tradition. It’s been revamped, repackaged, rebranded and given an extra swipe of lipstick (or dash of aftershave) as we read about how celebrities, successful business execs, and most recently, Olympic athletes, are using the magic of mindfulness, as part of their daily routine.

So, what is mindfulness, exactly?

Mindfulness is the state we are in when we are not distracted, but fully immersed in the present moment. That’s it! Nothing more complicated than that.

Most of the time, our attention is distracted by our thoughts and emotions, by our worries or anxieties about the future, or by regrets of the past. We are rarely truly connected to the present.

When we practice mindfulness, whether it’s part of a formal routine, or simply a random minute or two during a busy day, we hit the pause button and intentionally pay attention to what is happening, right now. Read that again—intentionally pay attention to what is happening, right now.

This can be really boring, when your mind would rather be distracted by something else; like when your next coffee break is, and what if you don’t get that important phone call, and why did you say that thing you said in that meeting last week, and how annoyed you will be if they’re still doing construction work on your route home … which is why mindfulness is often described as a form of mental training. It may not be complicated, but it may take discipline to adopt mindfulness habits, and to “be here, now”,  in this very moment.

Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness is,

“The awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”.

And I would add two important words to that—”without expectations”.  Approach mindfulness without wanting any specific results (well come on, enlightenment, hurry up already). Replace judgment or expectations with curiosity and commitment. Simply apply mindfulness techniques regularly, and over time, notice the impact that has on you.

There are a myriad ways to practice mindfulness. If you don’t know where to begin, here’s a good start: Elisha Goldstein’s “7 Things Mindful People Do Differently“.

And then, keep exploring. I find myself drawn to some mindfulness and meditation techniques more than others, and I also enjoy new approaches to these ancient techniques. With time, you will find your very own answer to the question of What is Mindfulness, as your personal practice unfolds.

what-is-mindfulness-yogaressa

To your clarity of mind and joy in your heart!

Namaste.

 

Meditation, Travel, Yoga in India, YTT Yoga Teacher Training

Tushita and the Hairy Bearded Dude Meditation

I finally made it to Tushita today, a Buddhist meditation center between McLeod Ganj and Dharamkot, where you can drop in for daily morning meditation. It was our day off, so the walk through the forest with its silent, tall trees was a welcome shift from the tuk tuk, taxi and car fumes we try to avoid by breathing through a scarf as they pass.

Tushita

Silence through the forest and continued silence when I arrived at Tushita; a few people here and there, plus prerequisite monkeys and ever-present dogs. I walked into the beautiful meditation room, and had it all to myself for a little while before people arrived. Light reflected off the gold on the many peaceful Buddhas, view from the windows of the 100-feet tall pine tree sentinels, the morning noises of the birds, muted activity of the people in the kitchen below.

Tushita Meditation Room
Tushita Meditation Room

A fat, round meditation cushion with an orange centre beckoned to me as the place I needed to sit this morning, and so I did. Perfect. People started to come into the room, quietly taking their places. All ages, nationalities and types. So, out of a room full of fifty or so people, how did I manage to get the hairy, bearded dude in his dark purple dhoti as my meditation neighbour? From the moment he sat down, he was restless and agitated, fidgeting and noisily rummaging in his backpack and taking long, loud, snorts through his nose to clear his throat. Great, this is what I had to look forward to for the next 60 minutes.

Shhhh...
Shhhh…

I was furious. In ten seconds, Hairy Bearded Dude had wrecked my peace and my expectations of my long-awaited Tushita meditation morning experience. By the tenth coughing snort, I had to restrain myself from giving him a hard slap on his burgundy leg. Should I get up and move places? Oh, good, here’s the meditation lady, maybe he’ll settle down. Um, nope, not at all. Just inches away from me, every breath and movement and cough and sigh was an assault to my senses. With my eyes closed, the entire room was tranquil, except for the grunt machine to my right, ruining the tranquility. I followed the meditation guidance to notice the breath, and become aware of the air coming in and of the nostrils. Hairy Bearded Dude snorted harshly through his.

Through a veil of general disgust and irritation, I was determined to dismiss Hairy Bearded Dude from my thoughts, and keep bringing my awareness back to my meditation. I softened, breathed, focused on my breath and reeled in my monkey mind every time it leapt around like the monkeys outside. Miraculously, within a few minutes, Hairy Bearded Dude’s presence subsided and dissolved into the rest of the room and I started to feel quiet inside.

TushitaThe meditation guide’s words were ironically fitting, as she spoke about how we want everything to beautiful and perfect and how when it is not so, we reject it. How we create more suffering for ourselves when we reject reality. A suggestion instead, to rather accept everything as it comes and goes, without craving something else or grasping onto something we like. Sensible words about choosing not to react strongly to things, but to choose equanimity and balance instead. Was she reading my mind?

Everything changes, nothing is permanent – the air we breathe, the blood circulating in our veins, our cells regenerating and dying, the light outside; nothing stays the same. So, to crave something else or try and hold onto something we like, is futile.

My breath slowed, my mind quietened, the hour passed quickly and peacefully. At the end of the meditation, we were guided to send loving thoughts to those we love, with “May They Be Happy” wishes (lovingkindness meditation), and then to send the same love or compassion to people we don’t know, and finally to those we “don’t like as much”. Yes, Hairy Bearded Dude was on the receiving end of my wishes. I smiled softly as I thought of how I was drawn to sit on the cushion right next to him and how he had actually helped my meditation; by showing me I could choose to stay frustrated and angry at his presence (and increase my suffering), or just let him be, let go of my desire for the circumstances to be different, and not be affected by him.

Now for the ongoing challenge … can I repeat the same approach and bring this kind of response into my everyday life?