Mindfulness is a frequent tag on posts from this blog, but what do I mean by that word? It’s a word that probably suggests religion, meditation, attention and certain practices depending on your own experiences.

Mindfulness is certainly central in the teaching of Buddhist meditation. Correct or right mindfulness is the critical factor in the path to liberation and enlightenment.

It is a calm awareness of your body functions, feelings, and consciousness. It is focused attention. It is an open awareness.

In the Āgamas of early Buddhism, there are ten forms of mindfulness. The first five seem religious in nature: the mindfulness of the Buddha, the Dharma, the Saṃgha, of giving, and of the heavens.

But the next five seem to be more accessible to everyone no matter what religious beliefs you have or don’t have. They are the mindfulness of stopping and resting, of discipline, of breathing, of the body and of death.

The words mindful and mindfulness have become so widely used that, like “Zen,” they have lost some of their original meaning. That’s why you’ll find webpages on mindful running and the Zen of golf.

But mindfulness as a practice can be found in work and activities. Maybe it’s a good thing that mindfulness has crossed over to everyday practices.

When I am writing or weeding the garden, I try to be mindful of my breath, the stops, the rests, my body. I won’t claim that it’s a spiritual practice, but it does go beyond the activity itself.

That’s not meant to trivialize the more serious practices of mindfulness.  Listen to Jon Kabat-Zinn lead a session on mindfulness in a talk at the Google campus. He talks about teaching mindfulness to the U.S. Rowing Team. He also makes the interesting observation that they compete sitting down, focused and going backwards.

I’ve seen articles about mindfulness and physics. Is light is a particle or a wave? The conclusion seems to be that it is both, which is a nice example of how contradictory explanations of reality can simultaneously be true. The answers we arrive at depend on the questions we are asking.

Billy Collins‘ poem “Shoveling Snow with Buddha” puts the Buddha in an unlikely place, doing an unlikely thing.

…But here we are, working our way down the driveway,
one shovelful at a time.
We toss the light powder into the clear air.
We feel the cold mist on our faces.
And with every heave we disappear
and become lost to each other
in these sudden clouds of our own making,
these fountain-bursts of snow.

This is so much better than a sermon in church,
I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling.
This is the true religion, the religion of snow,
and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky,
I say, but he is too busy to hear me.

He has thrown himself into shoveling snow
as if it were the purpose of existence,
as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway
you could back the car down easily
and drive off into the vanities of the world
with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio…

The Buddha’s mindfulness while shoveling snow is what we might commonly say is “throwing yourself into your work” or “being in the moment.”

And mindfulness has moved into psychology where the self-regulated attention involves conscious awareness. This turning inward to one’s current thoughts, feelings, and surroundings is a metacognitive skills for controlling concentration.

Although Buddhist meditation techniques originated as spiritual practices, they have a long history of secular applications.

Further Reading

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