What Is Mindfulness?

Live as if you've just been born

Close-up of statue of an Asian lady surrounded by cornflowers and poppies.
The Lady in the garden, representing mindfulness at Evergreen.

I’ve been writing weekly on the general topic of mindfulness for four and a half years and yet I still hesitate to write this particular blog.

I wrote the heading a couple of months ago and it’s been haunting me ever since. Every time I turn on the computer, the little document icon labelled “What is Mindfulness?” flashes at me, daring me to do something about it. Hardly a mindful way to live!

One tricky thing about trying to define mindfulness is that it has become a cliché implying someone sitting on a cushion with legs crossed, eyes closed, and palms upwards on the lap, murmuring om. This ancient practice has proven benefits, but mindfulness has a much larger application. It can be brought to moments when life is going off all around you like firecrackers on New Year’s Eve.

Another tricky thing about mindfulness is that it’s the opposite of what it seems to mean.

Mindfulness isn’t focussing on your mind.

To bring some clarity to this tricky subject, let’s look at the opposite of mindfulness.

Normally, no matter what happens to you, you have a strong, immediate opinion about it. It’s good or bad; it should be, or it shouldn’t be. It’s difficult or disastrous or diabolical. These automatic opinions make you react. You’re jerked about like a clumsy puppet by your thoughts. You become angry or annoyed. You fume or fret. You ridicule or revile. Your emotional reactions follow your thoughts, spewing forth in a volcanic manner reminding bystanders of Mt Vesuvius in 79 CE. This is not mindfulness. This is madness.