Definition of Mindfulness
Mindfulness or Awareness is a key and central issue of inestimable importance in any Yogic practice. According to Yoga, ‘mindfulness’ means to feel, to know, to be aware of and to comprehend what is going on not only around us, but within us as well. The mental barriers and tensions that we have are a direct result of our having not been aware. We were unaware of how they formed, or when, or even why they formed. In some instances, we are not even aware that we have a mental problem – just a vague notion that we could be feeling better than we do.
Mindfulness or Awareness in Yoga means the ability to stand back and witness one’s mental and physical activities. Most of us loose ourselves in our own personal dramas every day, identifying completely with this limited perception. Awareness – the witnessing aspect – enables us to experience ourselves objectively, and with this objectivity, we are able to view our mental and bodily reactions in a whole new light and with detachment.
The ability to watch one’s thoughts with impartiality leads one to realize and know things which were previously beyond present comprehension. Practising mindfulness takes time and dedication but it is also a very simple technique. Without being mindful it is not possible to transform one or to lift one’s mental burdens.
Mindfulness penetrates the ignorance
Mindfulness is central to every spiritual and psychological undertaking. According to Buddhist philosophy, “When Awareness is weak, the mind cannot penetrate ignorance”. This ‘ignorance’ relates to our unconscious habitual tendencies. Most of us operate only at the surface level of awareness, which relates to our rational, cognitive mind and we are unaware of any deeper unconscious mind factors. It is these deeper layers that are actually in control and this is why we do not really understand some of our actions and cannot control our moods and mental states.
When we begin to develop mindfulness we start to penetrate the surface layer of everyday consciousness and connect with the underlying mind factors. Krishnamurti often said that “the seeing is the doing” and by this he meant that just by recognizing a hidden psychological factor, its mystery is removed and its power is abolished. Thus we see how powerful practice of mindfulness is and how simply it works. Once we become accustomed to adopting a greater level of awareness, we objectively witness the subtler workings of our minds, and overcome obstructions simply by recognizing them for what they are.
The mind is an intangible element – it often roams around undirected and often becomes misdirected. We are made mindful of this mind through our thoughts but we are so often unaware of the multitude of thoughts running through our minds every second. As a result we are not in control of our minds, we let our thoughts run amuck and the end result is anguish, frustration and confusion.
Psychotherapeutic significance of being Mindful
For instance, when we are depressed, we experience a feeling of being ‘cut-off’ from ourselves. Depressive symptoms are both a cause and result of lack of awareness: they cause lack of mindfulness when we can’t employ insight into what we feel or why we feel like we do. It is very easy to go through life with a partial awareness and it is often painful and difficult to be truly aware, but it is only through mindfulness that we can overcome our self-restrictions.
Gestalt therapy regards the development of mindfulness as the very essence of the therapeutic process. This therapy works on the premise that the cause of our suffering is a distinct lack of mindfulness, especially lack of awareness of the ‘here and now.’ Caldwell suggests that awareness is “a focusing of attention, a commitment to being in the present moment i.e. alertness.” Feelings of tension, anxiety, sadness, and pain are feelings associated with reviewing past events or worrying about future occurrences – they do not and cannot exist in the present. Mindfulness of the present moment will lead us to discover that here is an island of peace, clarity and tranquillity which is untouched by the sway of past impressions and future anticipations.
Mindfulness is Swadhyaya (Self-study or self observation)
Being mindful suggests being attentive, open and curious about everything around and within ourselves. The role of a witness is needed to reclaim that natural curiosity and alertness that will re-enable us to experience the world as it is. A poor self-image and feelings of inferiority etc cannot be eradicated by rationalising, but by the sometimes painful process of self observation. Assuming the role of a detached witness will help us to face these aspects of ourselves that may be difficult to accept. Mindfulness helps us to illuminate our more positive aspects as well and, as the process continues we can become conscious of building up more positive personal experiences and developing our psychological strength. If we are aware, we are able to avoid undesirable negativities that previously would have tied us down and confused us. We can actively replace even the most subtle negative thought patterns with more constructive building blocks for a greater self image and self worth.
Sushant is Meditation & Philosophy Teacher and Academic Director at Rishikesh Yogis. Sushant carries long years of experience teaching practical as well as philosophical aspects of Kundalini yoga, Kriya yoga, Hatha Yoga and Tantra philosophy.