Friday, May 8, 2015


Now, don’t get me wrong. I am firmly convinced that the regular practice of mindfulness is a good thing—indeed, a very good thing. The medical and scientific journals are full of peer-reviewed articles attesting to the benefits of mindfulness for both body and mind. My blog is full of references to many of those articles.

We now know that engaging in mindfulness meditation for 30 minutes a day for 8 weeks can increase the density of grey matter in the brain’s hippocampus (a major component of the brain known to be im­por­tant for learn­ing and mem­o­ry, and in struc­tures as­so­ci­at­ed with self-a­ware­ness and stress). The re­duc­tions in stress re­ported by the par­ti­ci­pants were al­so cor­re­lat­ed with de­creased grey-mat­ter dens­ity in the amygdala, a struc­ture of the brain known to play an im­por­tant role in anx­i­e­ty and stress. The amygdala can effectively hijack the prefrontal cortex, being the area of the brain thought to be involved in planning complex cognitive behaviour and in the expression of personality and appropriate social behaviour. The regular practice of mindfulness quietens the amygdala and stabilizes the working of the prefrontal cortex.

Many companies have seized on mindfulness as a way of increasing the productivity, efficiency and effectiveness of their employees. The corporate bosses have heard that the regular practice of mindfulness improves a person’s ability to cope with and release stress, enhances their cognitive functioning and performance, improves their concentration, attention to detail, memory and sensory processing, and reduces their mental distractedness. All that is good for the company. Of course it is, damn it. It registers in dollars---and more dollars. It’s the bottom line. No wonder some are using the term ‘McMindfulness.’

As I say, I am ‘sold’ on mindfulness. I write about mindfulness, I teach mindfulness, and I practise it, but I find it a bit sad when I see mindfulness being exploited---yes, exploited---for purely pecuniary gains. I don’t really believe for one moment that these companies actually care all that much about their employees. They simply want them to work hard so that they can make money for the company. There, I said it.

What so many people forget is that mindfulness is a spiritual practice. Yes, first and foremost, it is spiritual. The English word ‘spirit’ comes from the Latin word spiritus meaning, among other things, breath, breathing, air, inspiration, character, spirit, life, vigour, and courage. Spirituality does not require nor depend upon any notions of supernaturalism (whatever that word means) but refers to non-physical and non-transient things such as faith, hope and charity as well as states of affairs or human consciousness which, going ‘beyond words’, are only partially (if at all) graspable by human concepts--things that cannot be seen but which are otherwise capable of being apprehended, if not fully understood. Spirituality is thus a composite word referring to the domain where mind, personality, purpose, ideals, values and meanings dwell, and is concerned with the development of the mind, the emotions and the will. And, oh yes, spirituality and religion are not the same thing.

Now, you don’t have to be a Buddhist to practise mindfulness, but I will quote from the Buddha because he is said to have achieved enlightenment through the practice of mindfulness. However, the Buddha spoke about ‘right mindfulness’---not just mindfulness, but right mindfulness. Do you want to know what right mindfulness is all about? Please read on.

‘One is mindful to abandon wrong view and to enter and remain in right view: This is one's right mindfulness ...
‘One is mindful to abandon wrong resolve and to enter and remain in right resolve: This is one's right mindfulness ...
‘One is mindful to abandon wrong speech and to enter and remain in right speech: This is one's right mindfulness ...
‘One is mindful to abandon wrong action and to enter and remain in right action: This is one's right mindfulness ...
‘One is mindful to abandon wrong livelihood and to enter and remain in right livelihood: This is one's right mindfulness ...’
                           Maha-cattarisaka Sutta: The Great Forty, 117.

Right mindfulness is about right and wrong as respects one’s views, resolve, speech, action and livelihood. That last one---right livelihood---now, that's a real zinger. How many livelihoods actually assist humanity? How many relieve poverty, suffering and distress? And how many help the marginalized and the disadvantaged in our world?

If there is a ‘purpose’ to mindfulness it is this—to provide a means whereby the practitioner can gain insight through self-observation. But even that is not an end in itself. Do you want to know the real end-purpose of mindfulness? It is this---that we might become more loving and more compassionate human beings. And here's some wisdom from the Buddhist monk, teacher and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh: 'Compassion is a verb.' That's right. It's something we do. Right action.

Living mindfully does indeed make us more aware of who we really are. By self-observation we gain insight into our thoughts, feelings, and actions, and over time we become more directly aligned to the flow of life of which we all are a part. That can only be a good thing. It’s all very empowering. However, without right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, and right livelihood, we are nothing. My biggest objection to the New Age movement is not its irrationality and at times downright silliness but its utter selfishness and self-centredness. It’s all about ‘me’—my life, my career, my happiness, and my self-fulfillment. The result? We just become more selfish, more self-satisfied, more self-centered, and more self-absorbed and self-obsessed. And that is not a good thing.

So-called 'mindfulness'---without right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, and right livelihood---is simply not mindfulness at all. 

Loving-kindness and compassion.
That, my friends, is what mindfulness is all about.



1 comment:

  1. Inspiring, Righteousness merely is not mindfulness, Kindness is the essence of mindfulness.


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