Sunday, November 30, 2014

FOUR MYTHS ABOUT MINDFULNESS

Despite all the information there is concerning mindfulness, many misconceptions remain concerning the 'thing' known as mindfulness. Let’s call these misconceptions myths, for that is what in truth they are.

Myth No. 1: Mindfulness is a religion

Incorrect. Mindfulness is not a religion. A religion ordinarily involves a system of beliefs or statement of doctrine, a code of conduct, prescribed forms of ritual or religious observances, and both ‘faith’ and’ worship.’ A religion is also ordinarily accompanied by a system of moral philosophy, particular doctrines of faith, and a religious community which supports the faith as well as its organization and practices. Mindfulness does not involve or require any faith at all---certainly no faith in a supernatural ‘Being,’ ‘Thing,’ or ‘Principle’---nor does mindfulness involve any worship or impose any system of beliefs or statement of doctrine, code of conduct or prescribed forms of ritual or religious observances. For more information on exactly what is a religion, or if you simply can't sleep at night, you may wish to read my doctoral thesis on the subject.


Myth No. 2: Mindfulness is Buddhist

Incorrect. Many people mistakenly believe that mindfulness is Buddhist. By the way, Buddhism is only a religion in some of its forms and manifestations. Now, true it is that the word ‘mindfulness’ can refer to a specific type or practice of meditation used as a psychological and educational tool in Theravāda Buddhism---a naturalistic form of Buddhism of which there are several schools---known as vipassanā (or insight) meditation. However, mindfulness is not restricted to Buddhism, Buddhists or Buddhist meditation. Indeed, there are several types or forms of Buddhist meditation, and Buddhists do not claim to ‘own’ or have a monopoly on mindfulness and mindfulness meditation. In short, any person can practise mindfulness, irrespective of their religion or lack of religion.

Myth No. 3: Mindfulness is a philosophy

Again, incorrect. Mindfulness is not a philosophy. A philosophy ordinarily consists of numerous teachings, ideas or principles which collectively provide an overall coherent view of the purpose or meaning of life. There certainly are certain teachings associated with the subject of mindfulness, but mindfulness as such does not seek to explain the purpose or meaning of life.


Myth No. 4: Mindfulness is a method and technique of meditation

Now, we must be careful here. Mindfulness is meditation but in a very special, indeed unique, sense. You see, mindfulness differs from all other types of meditation. Other forms of meditation involve the 'method' or ‘technique’---oh, how I hate those words---of concentration upon some image (be it physical or mental) or sound, and are designed primarily to calm the mind. As such, other forms of meditation provide little or no insight into the action of the present moment including one’s consciousness and external surroundings. Mindfulness does involve attention but not concentration as that word is ordinarily understood, although some amount of concentration in the form of a 'watchful' physical and psychological presence is certainly included in attention. Mindfulness is a means by which we can gain understanding and insight into ourselves and our behaviour. Mindfulness requires no 'method' or ‘technique’ as such, but is simply the direct, immediate, and unmediated experience of life as it unfolds from one moment to the next. Mindfulness is something which happens, all day long, as soon as we remove the barriers to its happening. Mindfulness has been described as a natural---naturalistic might be a better word---practice which ‘takes’ meditation and then applies it in a direct and most practical way to one’s whole day, indeed one’s entire life.



Whenever I mention that I'm into mindfulness some people immediately think of yellow robes, gurus, transcendental states of consciousness, mind-altering drugs, alternative medicine, alternative spirituality, out-of-body experiences, escapism, and just plain wackiness. Mindfulness is none of those things. Mindfulness is simply going about your daily, everyday life---with your eyes wide open and your mind open, curious and engaged. Got that? Then please never forget it---and pass the word around.

All you need to practise mindfulness is a purposively open mind---and, most importantly, a mind that is curious and receptive to whatever is happening in your moment-to-moment experience of daily life. And, after all, is it not self-evident that it helps to be purposefully alert, receptive, and attentive to what is going on in and about us?

So, what then is mindfulness? My short answer is this. Mindfulness is self-education. It's a school for life, where the learning is in the living.



The photos in this post were taken by the author on his
recent trip to France and are of various scenes in the city of Nantes.




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