On mindfulness


To be mindful is to be attentive, heedful, or careful.  bowlIn essence, to be mindful is to use one’s senses and mind together to generate a deliberate and beneficial result.

We should all strive to live a life of mindfulness. 

We all have senses that perceive the world around us.  We see the beauty in a rainbow or taste the sweetness of fresh strawberries in spring.  Mindfulness is processing and savoring those sensory inputs; slowing down while sensing (tasting, touching, smelling, seeing, hearing) to make an impression on the mind.  A mindful person will take the time to thoroughly process the sensation, and say “Hey, this rain storm has produced a beautiful rainbow to the east.  All the colors of the spectrum are laid out clearly” or “Wow.  This strawberry is really sweet.  What a perfect little package of taste.  Thank you, God, for the ability to take and enjoy this strawberry.”

But mindfulness is more than just pausing and reflecting on one’s sensory perceptions.  Mindfulness is using one’s mind in a deliberate manner – to observe the world immediately around us, to process and reflect on the situation, and to act accordingly with the end result improving the situation.   From an engineering perspective, our senses and mind are an integrated system.  We obtain input to the system from our senses.  Our brain acts as the hardware that receives the input, while our mind is the software that processes the input based on our inherent values (our programming).  Throughout our lives we are learning and processing our world.  The software progresses through new learning and new experiences.  However, our values are the foundation of that processing.

A contrast to mindfulness is to look at popular culture in the United States.  Entertainment and leisure have become a predominant cultural force.  Vacations, amusement parks, entertainment, cruises, and retirement living have become a major influence on commerce and culture.  Much of it focuses on amusement.  What is amusement?   Amusement is the polar opposite of mindfulness.   Let’s look at the roots of the word “amusement.”  To “muse” is to be absorbed in one’s thoughts or to consider thoughtfully.  By adding the prefix “a-” the word amuse is formed, which then brings the meaning “without” and implies without thought, having no thought.  Thus engaging in amusement is behaving without thinking.  Mindfulness is the opposite.  It is the coupling of activity with careful thought.

Mindfulness is living fully as a result of thought and consideration.

Someone who lives mindfully is confronted with the following questions.  How do my actions impact my family, my neighbors, my friends, and my community?  What is my community?  Will my action or inaction have an impact?  We all have an impact.  In a small, microscopic way, we each impact our immediate surroundings.  Cumulatively, the earth’s billions of people have a significant impact on planet earth and those that dwell on it.  Will I leave behind a better place?  Will I leave no trace as I roam about my habitat?  Will I consume fewer resources than I generate?

There is a basic concept of the Zen philosophy: “wash your bowl“.  It is a simple statement, yet immensely profound if one is mindful of its ramifications.   Every living being on the planet must eat for survival, yet once we do eat, what is the next step?  Wash your bowl.  Clean up after yourself.  Care for one’s belongings and those who are about you.  But what else?  How does a mindful person respond?  Be thankful that you have had a meal.  Share your abundance with someone who does not have.  Care for the environment, for some creatures are unable to defend themselves or steward the earth’s resources as well as human could.  Reuse resources when possible – the earth does not hold an unlimited supply of resources.  Future generations will need to live here as well.

In ancient Israel, Nehemiah was tasked to rebuild the city of Jerusalem after the people’s long exile.  He made a mindful and motivating statement to the people, as they faced the enormity of the rebuilding tasks confronting them.

Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared.  Do not grieve for this day is holy to our God.  The joy of the Lord is your strength.”  Nehemiah 8:10 (NIV)

Likewise we are to enjoy the world in which we live and share with those who are less fortunate.  Further, we are to be mindful of what is going on around us, and to care for the people we live with and the creatures share our earth.  Wash your bowl and be mindful of the world that we each have a brief opportunity to enjoy.

What do you think?  How can you bring more mindfulness to your day?

About John Forrest