The term mindfulness is used in different contexts to refer to 1) a contemplative technique based on ancient Buddhist practice, 2) a psychological process of becoming non-judgmentally present, and 3) an outcome, that is, being mindful. It can also describe a 1) state of consciousness and 2) trait or characteristic of someone, such as referring to someone as being mindful or aware of one’s engagement with others. I want to bring these contexts of mindfulness together to help you understand both the simplicity and complexity of mindfulness practice.
Before I get to mindfulness, and to start with the enigma of consciousness, I need to contrast it with our normal state of mind. Our normal day-to-day consciousness is almost entirely caught up with the constant stream of thoughts, feelings, emotions, perceptions, imaginings and memories. These are the content of consciousness. I read somewhere that most people have around 60,000 thoughts a day! Not so sure about that figure but it’s a lot. By being consumed by the contents, we remain in the mental landscape of linear, rigid abstractions, of being ‘captured’ by engaging things, people and technological distractions. Our awareness is focused out there, rather than observing how we are engaging it.
For most of the time we tend to be on auto-pilot, waking up each morning and becoming immediately immersed in habitual, reactive thoughts and feelings. We inhabit an inner world of fleeting mental states without any real sense of perspective of how much we are enmeshed within them. This outer focus is natural of course but it enhances our attachment to a world of busyness, functionality and disconnection. Without experiencing a higher or deeper mental perspective towards our inner and outer worlds, we limit our consciousness and self-understanding.
Mindfulness, practiced in some form over thousands of years around the world, is a mental activity that alters both awareness and consciousness. Regularly practicing the technique (there are variations) trains one’s awareness to be present to immediate experience characterised by non-judgement, childlike openness and an accepting and empathic attitude towards everything that one is aware of. Since awareness, whether it be self-awareness or awareness of the ‘external’ world, exists within consciousness, then transforming awareness in this way can transform your consciousness.
Becoming deeply and consistently mindful will therefore deepen your state of consciousness, away from the normal state of consciousness of our distracted, focused and habitual mind. In deepening consciousness we transit from a doing or functional approach to living. In embracing the presence of moment-to-moment experience, we experience a way of being in which we are calmly present in a spacious, grounded state of consciousness.
In this state of being we experience a more profound or tranquil relationship with our mind, with others, with nature. In a sense we begin to wake up to the fullness of experience, and this leads us to an expanded sense of self if we remain attentive to the labyrinthine path of mindfulness. Within a heightened state of awareness of that which we are doing e.g walking, painting, playing an instrument we enter into a state of flow in which we are totally attentive in a timeless, interconnected mental space. It could be referred to as bliss.
Bliss may refer to an intense experience of joy as a result of receiving something but the profound version arises from an inner experience of a deep, even transcendent unity consciousness. It is a consciousness of inter-connectedness, of being-in-the-world of expansive identity, what I refer to in my mantra, “I AM”. The mantra: In Love and Joy and Harmony, I LOVE that which I AM” refers to both an aspiration of living with bliss and a state of Being. Essentially the deepest experience of mindful connectedness is the bliss of surrender, belonging and relationship with the Divine, the Sacredness of Nature. So, in a nutshell, practicing mindfulness can transform consciousness which opens the mind to new connections and unity experiences such as the bliss of I AM.