Challenge Day 15- Yoga is Mindfulness
Mindfulness seems to be the latest trend in wellness. Some have even branded the current obsession with the benefits of mindfulness practice as McMindfulness. As apps proliferate that sell courses in this meditation practice originally taught by the Buddha, it can be daunting to find the core message and meaning of the technique.
Translated into English from the Pāli term sati, mindfulness and awareness are closely linked. Most people assume that mindfulness training is about keeping your attention on a single point. While this is extremely useful, the effort that you engage in to force the mind’s focal point to stay is usually called concentration. Mindful awareness flows naturally after a sustained period of in-depth attention. There can be no mindfulness without attentiveness. A distracted mind cannot be mindful. But not all attentive minds can be mindful. This is confusing, I know. But think about it like this. Mindfulness is a state of awareness that holds all experiences in a vast openness, like the way the sky holds the clouds. Attention is the activity to bringing an uninterrupted flow of mental activity towards a chosen object of attention. For example, inspecting an object requires a great deal of attention, but may or may not include the quality of mindfulness. When the state of mindfulness is present, the mind is vast, luminous, empty, and totally aware. There is no judgment, no identity, just the state of being that one could call the is-ness of being.
Perhaps another way of understanding the difference between attention and mindfulness is to think of the difference between convergent focus and divergent focus. Mental focus is an easier thing to practice, so most meditation and yoga techniques begin there. Bringing the mind to a single point of attention is called convergent focus. If the mind is in a distracted state, as many of us are, then working on simply maintaining unbroken attention for a period of one minute may seem like a heroic act. This is in fact where most spiritual practice begins—with the simple task of constantly redirecting the mind to a single point of attention. When the mind wanders, you ask it to come back, over and over again. This effort is a practice of concentration and attentiveness. If your mind is able to find a balance point, it may be possible to shift towards a more diffuse and inclusive type of focus. Divergent focus is where the mind, still being focused, is not zeroed-in on specific point. Instead, divergent focus allows the mind to be full of the entire field of experience without a preference for what arises. No matter what filters into your field of awareness, the mindful state is simply, well, mindful of it. If frustration is present, mindfulness notes that frustration is present. If distraction is present, mindfulness notes that distraction present. And so on.
It can be tempting to think that you can simply float through life and practice mindfulness by simply being aware of whatever arises as it arises. On one level that’s true. On another level, unless you’ve put in the work towards developing a steady, calm focused mind capable of convergent focus, it is unlikely that you will be able to sustain the open field of mindfulness amidst the inevitable distractions of life. Mindfulness, while a catchphrase of the day, has a deeper end goal. The purpose of every technique on the spiritual path is to help the seeker realize the truth—universal truth about the true nature of life and existence. The cultivation of mindfulness may be scientifically linked to various positive life benefits, such as increased job performance, lower levels of stress, better physical health, positive mood, and more. But, remember, the tool of mindfulness has a much higher and more advanced purpose. All the positive impacts documented by research studying mindfulness based meditation technique show not the true end goal of the practice, but instead a by-product. Mindfulness is a tool of spiritual liberation and if you happen to live a happier, more peaceful, healthier life as a result, well, that’s just icing on the cake.
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