What Is Mindfulness?

September 22, 2015    BY Christine Fowle

Imagine you are a bird. Perched in a tree, peering through your bird-eyes at the world. You have no cultural identification, no thought of your past nor inclination to plan your future. The vast landscape requires no labels. Tall branches provide comfort and shelter. Nature provides nourishment. There is no good or bad, only sensations. Sunlight, wind, rain, snow—terrestrial elements unfolding naturally without judgment. Your bird-self maintains no sense of possession over the little bitty birds that have long since fled the nest, or ownership of the tree in which you’re perched. Upon hearing a melodic trail of twitterings from the neighboring branch, a fluttering joy rises from the base of your being bubbling up inside you. Unable to contain yourself for even a moment longer, your wings expand. Feeling the soft breeze moving against them, slowly you lean in, diving into the warm current.

Have you ever touched the moment—deliberately opening the mind’s eye to fully penetrate your experience of the present? Have you? Would you like to try?

Close your eyes. Take three deep breaths. Upon opening your eyes, slowly scan the room, taking in as many details as you can. Notice colors, textures, shapes and sounds. No need to label them. Simply notice. Now, when you are done, look at your hand; extend your index finger and touch the tip of your nose.

…Five, six, seven minutes later… 

Good.

This is mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the process by which momentary engagement is developed. It’s not a technique to bestow rapture or bliss, but rather a method of discovering peace. Our six sense doors (sight, smell, sound, taste, touch, and thought) are the means by which we experience the world. The first five senses are merely the methods by which the brain receives data. It is the mind, however, that evaluates and tosses the tinted lenses over the experience, labeling it.

It’s not a technique to bestow rapture or bliss, but rather a method of discovering peace.

Mindfulness is the constant focusing and refocusing—moment to moment to moment—on the object of our awareness. If listening, we focus on listening; if putting on shoes, we focus on putting on our shoes. This means directing full awareness upon the object of attention: the feeling of the sock on the foot, the sound made sliding the foot into the shoe, the pliancy of the fabric, the sensation of the toe slipping along the bottom.

Momentary engagement is not a misnomer. Science has taught us that all objects in the universe are bundles of energy vibrating at varying frequencies. Nothing is static. From moment to moment to moment, everything in our world is changing. Mindfulness swings open the gate of focused awareness, supporting our engagement. It helps us to be more detailed employees, better friends, and more attentive parents. Developing this skill weaves a translucent thread of lucidity throughout the fabric of our existence. But most importantly, it allows the fullest expression of ourselves and authentic aspects of our being that we haven’t connected with in a very long time.

The steps for developing mindfulness are deceptively simple. Execution, however, does not come without its complications. The challenge lies within the realm of our thoughts, the single biggest distraction from our absorption in the present moment. We are instead pulled into reflections of the past, dreams of the future, and what this means to our present moment experience.

The process can be misleading, as it is not the silencing of our thoughts that opens the door to engagement. It is momentary engagement that is the key to silencing our thoughts. By focusing intently upon the task at hand, discursive thinking cannot populate the quiet space of our mind. Judgment ceases. And then, for the moment, we can just be.

Mindfulness is not a permanent state of awareness. It is an ongoing process that deepens the richness of our experience without the obscuring thoughts of good, bad, right, and wrong to cloud our clarity. It is a skill that can be practiced every second of every day—and just like meditation, cannot be developed simply by reading about it.

Mindfulness is not a permanent state of awareness.

Touching the moment, even if only briefly, is an experience worth savoring. Perhaps at first it is only for fractions of a second. But with practice, this grows into minutes, eventually enriching every aspect of our life experience.

...Upon hearing a melodic trail of twitterings, a bubbling up arises inside you. Unable to contain yourself for even a moment longer, your wings expand. Feeling the soft breeze upon them, you slowly lean in, diving into the warm current.

#meditation preparation Photography: Andrea Killam

Christine Fowle
Principal writer for Searching for OM and founder of Udumbara Yoga, Christine Fowle has studied yoga in the U.S., India, Nepal, Indonesia, and Germany. Endeavoring to discover the keys to greater fulfillment, it was Buddhism and yogic philosophy, mindfulness and meditation that gradually pointed her toward the (yoga) mat. After a decade of practice and three years of intensive study in India and Nepal, Christine has recently returned to her hometown in Upstate New York to focus on guiding... Read more>>