I was first introduced to mindfulness as a young boy growing up in Sri Lanka, and I can tell you that being asked to sit for hours in the lotus position and focus on your breathing is simply not fun, particularly when you are seven! Even as a child, I intuitively knew that these ritualised approaches were less to do with finding inner peace and more about institutionalised religion.
What I learnt however, was the value of quietening the mind and how it served as the gateway to noticing my behaviours and building greater self-awareness.
Let’s clear up the jargon
So, what is this mindfulness we hear about these days? Mindfulness is about calming our distracted minds and creating a deeper level of awareness.
Mindfulness meditation techniques often involve an intentional quieting of the mind using one or more points of focus. The focus might be our breathing, feelings, bodily sensations, what we can see and hear in our surroundings; or all of the above! Whatever the object(s) of focus, the state is very much one of being immersed in the present moment and quietening the internal monologue of constant evaluative thought. It is worth noting here that the ‘present moment’ is in fact flexible, as time can be as narrow (e.g. nano seconds) or wide (e.g. decades) as we want. It is not something to get hung-up on.
Luckily, we also do not need to sit in awkward positions or limit ourselves to formal meditation sessions! With practice, mindfulness can be integrated into everyday living, allowing us to have a sort of ‘meta-awareness’ and clarity in everything we do.
Mindfulness has become popular these days as a tool for achieving better focus and concentration that can then be applied to any task. It is also used to deal with anxiety and stress, as being mindful reduces future focus and grounds us more in the here-and-now. Indeed, it is no surprise that businesses are using mindfulness as a way of improving employee performance and reducing burn out. This is all great, but there is more to it.
The bigger picture
Quietening the mind is really only the beginning. A calm and aware mind can give us much more than better concentration and a surface solution to anxiety. It can have a profound impact on how we relate to everything.
With a focused and curious mind we can develop a deeper awareness of our behaviour patterns, our bodies, the ebb and flow of emotions, the nature of our environments (family, work, society) and our broader relationship to humanity and the world. We can begin to move beyond the realms of mere concentration to an awareness of the very nature of being at a more fundamental level – what I am referring to here is interconnectedness.
The idea that we are each an isolated ego striving in the world is very much part of our culture today. To consider something different would be inconceivable to many. Yet, the need to belong is one of the deepest human needs. And what could be more fundamental than belonging to a common humanity and the whole realm of nature. While we are certainly each separate organisms, we are at the same time very much all connected. Jung called it the “collective unconscious”.
I believe interconnectedness to be a natural truth. Indeed, it was Einstein who said that “a human being is a part of the whole, called by us ‘universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness”.
Rational recognition of interconnectedness is then the starting point. It is the mindful mind however that allows us to move beyond the cognitive-rational and tune into a deeper sense of connection to all that is; a sense that can have a profound impact on our wellbeing and the fullness with which we engage with life!