‘Mindful’ is a word that turns up everywhere these days. There’s mindful oral hygiene, mindful communication, even mindful diplomacy.
But what does the word actually mean? In the context of our meditation life, ‘being mindful’ or ‘practicing mindfulness’ has some specific characteristics that are helpful to be mindful of.
- Bare attention: Mindfulness is kept bare, free of interpretation and opinion. It simply ‘sees’ the experience arising within the present moment as it is, without any conceptual overlay. Mindfulness is often compared to a clear mirror that highlights whatever passes before it.
- Non-judgmental: Related to bare attention, mindfulness does not judge what’s happening or prefer one experience over another. This is an important point; often students think it is better to be mindful of the breath rather than to be mindful of their chattering mind. But in this training all objects and experiences are created equal. Sayadaw U Pandita says it clearly: “The only job of the yogi is to ‘note’ to object that is arising in this very moment.”
- Non-superficial: The mind has a deeply ingrained tendency to stay on the surface of things and skate along the layer of it’s own interpretations and projections. True mindfulness sinks below this film of thought and encounters the direct experience of the object in a direct and deep way. The commentaries compare the mind without mindfulness to a pumpkin and a mind with mindfulness to a stone. When thrown into water, the pumpkin floats and stays on the surface, but the stone sinks to the floor of the stream or lake. Similarly, the mind, when powered by strong mindfulness, penetrates into the true nature of the arising object.
Points for Practice
- Download Sayadaw U Tejaniya’s tip sheet: Right Attitude for Meditation. I keep these on my altar and glance at them before each sitting. They insure that mindfulness is true and aligned.
- For more explanation, please listen to a talk by Joseph Goldstein on Sati (Mindfulness). Download here
Originally published on December 4, 2012