Mindfulness is a function of our mental faculties that we all use to a small degree in our everyday life. Our objective in this article is to better understand that function and learn to develop it so that we can use it to a greater extent throughout every aspect of our existence.
For over a million years, individuals throughout the world have been studying mindfulness in cultivating ways to refine its usage, and we will be relying on their wisdom to guide us.
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Mindfulness Meditation as a Tool for Cultivating Mindfulness
The principal instrument for understanding and strengthening our capacity for Mindfulness is a practice widely known as Meditation.
Mindfulness and Meditation are not synonymous terms, although they appear together so frequently that one might think they are easily are the same.
So, what is the difference between Mindfulness and Meditation?
Mindfulness refers to the power of our minds to give close, nonjudgmental attention to our experience as it unfolds.
Meditation, on the other hand, refers to certain exercises that can be used to enlarge and refine mindfulness.
Not all forms of meditation however intend to cultivate Mindfulness. Some meditative practices are oriented towards generating Transnet experiences, achieving a trans-state, or gaining extraordinary powers.
But the particular types of meditation that we will discuss on prokensho are practices whose central purpose is to make us MORE MINDFUL.
Meditation helps us become more mindful by providing us with specific ways to train our awareness. In this sense, meditation does for mindfulness, what going to the gym does for our physical well-being.
It gives us a particular context in which to work and put our minds in better condition. Think of mindfulness meditation as a trade mill for your mind.
In later installments of our mindfulness articles series, we’ll go into great detail about the features of mindfulness. But before we begin to explore how it is done, I must say a few words about what mindfulness meditation is not.
What Mindfulness Meditation is not?
Since the 1960s, meditation has become somewhat familiar to westerners. People have a great many ideas about what it is, and many of those preconceptions are not accurate for the practice we will be studying on ProKensho.com.
Some of the ideas people have about meditation may fit other forms of disciplines that go by that name. But they may not be correct for mindfulness meditation.
It’s a good idea therefore to relax our expectations about meditation. Whatever preconceived ideas you may have about this practice, I ask you to begin to relinquish them.
This in fact will be another exercise in Mindfulness. For much of mindfulness is becoming aware of the contents of the mind, and then letting them go.
Relinquishment will be a word, we will be hearing and using a lot on Prokensho. To assist in relinquishing our preconceptions about meditation, let’s spend some time discussing some of the most common ideas many people have about mindfulness.
And once we clear the ground a bit, we will begin the more difficult job of describing: What Mindfulness Meditation Actually Is!
Mindfulness Meditation is not what you think
Let’s start with the word itself, Meditation is an unfortunate choice of the term to designate the kind of activities we’ll study on Prokensho. But because the word is so widely used, we’ll probably be stuck with it.
Because it is an unfortunate word, as meditation usually suggests a deep form of thinking. The kind of mental activity associated with words like Rumination and contemplation.
Such expressions suggest that one takes a thought or a problem and intensely reflexes on it. Moiling it over in the mind. This kind of delivered thought process is a very important mental activity, but it is not the kind of discipline that helps develop mindfulness.
It is useful for finding solutions and gaining certain insights, but it is not as especially valuable in helping us see “HOW THE MIND ITSELF OPERATES” and how best to encourage the mind to function in a more wholesome way.
In fact, it is quite possible to ruminate or think over an idea without being mindful. Awareness and thinking are two different mental functions.
Interestingly the tradition on which mindfulness practice is founded does not use the term MEDITATION. Buddhism calls this practice BHAVANA, which is most accurately translated as CULTIVATION. Bhavana does not mean deep thinking, but rather the awareness and discipline that allow one to shape the mind in ways conducive to happiness and well-being.
Bhavana is less about thinking intensely than creating the type of mind that provides fertile ground from which skillful thinking arises. When the Buddha choose his words for the practice that enhances mindfulness, he was selecting an ordinary agricultural metaphor, an image that deeply resonates with the common people of his day.
He was comparing the process of developing the mind to the way that farmers repair and care for the earth to produce a rich nourishing crop.
As we perceive, this distinction between contemplation and cultivation becomes clearer. For now, I invite you to simply ruminate on this thought: “Meditation is not what you think”.
(Also Read: Meditation Is Not an Escape from Reality)
Mindfulness Meditation is not Exotic
And here’s another thing that meditation isn’t, at least not in the way we study and practice it here on ProKensho.
Given it, the early associations with Hindu Gurus and Buddhist Monks. Many in the western world have come to regard Meditation practice as rather strange in foreign. For some, the aura of exotism exerts a compelling attraction.
They begin interested in meditation precisely because of its smacks of the unusual, and the mystical. Practice like meditation and yoga are rapidly becoming a part of our cultural mainstream, for many meditations still retains that sense of otherness.
Yet those who are attracted to meditation, and those who are repulsed by it because of its exotic quality are both mistaken. Meditation, at least Mindfulness Meditation is profoundly ordinary, there is nothing really extraordinary or strange about it.
it is not exotic
Although it may be associated with a holy man in robes or men with long beards or monks with clean shaves and heads. Meditation has no intrinsic connection with beards or bald skulls. One need not subscribe to an Asian religion to practice it; you don’t have to own special clothes or adopt certain beliefs to meditate.
You certainly do not have to be holy or even religious, it is quite possible in fact that these trappings could impede your meditation practice. If you take up meditation because you think it is exotic or because you want, be pious and deep in your spirituality, your attraction to meditation simply arises from the ego.
The desire to appear other than you actually are. That is not to say, however, that you should not start to practice meditation because you think it is exotic, it’s only to say that like many other preconceptions this idea is: That will need to relax sooner or later.
It is perfectly alright to begin a mindfulness practice because it seems exotic or because in some ways it serves your ego and your needs. You can begin to meditate for all kinds of bad or semi-appropriate reasons, ultimately it does not really matter why you start.
But for mindfulness practice to become truly constructive in your life, those initial motives will have to be relinquished.