In his book, Wherever You Go, There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zim defines mindfulness as the “art of conscious living”. The book dives further into the practical application of mindfulness, how to cultivate it, and the different practices and exercises.
Fundamentally, mindfulness is a simple concept. Its power lies in its practice and its applications. Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. This kind of attention nurtures greater awareness, clarity, and acceptance of present-moment reality. It wakes us up to the fact that our lives unfold only in moments. If we are not fully present for many of those moments, we may not only miss what is most valuable in our lives but also fail to realize the richness and the depth of our possibilities for growth and transformation.
Instead of allowing the unconscious, automatic behaviours and habits to direct your energy or your fears and insecurities to move you, mindfulness can help you control your actions and make decisions based on reason and logic. This is achieved through attention.
When we commit ourselves to paying attention in an open way, without falling prey to our own likes and dislikes, opinions and prejudices, projections and expectations, new possibilities open up and we have a chance to free ourselves from the straitjacket of unconsciousness.
When you aren’t bound by past thought processes and narratives, you can then act upon present needs.
The spirit of mindfulness is to practice for its own sake, and just to take each moment as it comes—pleasant or unpleasant, good, bad, or ugly—and then work with that because it is what is present now.
Judgement is one aspect of our consciousness that derails the present experience and disrupts our ability to be still.
When you dwell in stillness, the judging mind can come through like a foghorn. I don’t like the pain in my knee…. This is boring…. I like this feeling of stillness; I had a good meditation yesterday, but today I’m having a bad meditation…. It’s not working for me. I’m no good at this. I’m no good, period. This type of thinking dominates the mind and weighs it down. It’s like carrying around a suitcase full of rocks on your head. It feels good to put it down. Imagine how it might feel to suspend all your judging and instead to let each moment be just as it is, without attempting to evaluate it as “good” or “bad.” This would be a true stillness, a true liberation.
Each moment doesn’t have to be good or comfortable or exciting. If you are constantly chasing those “higher” moments, then you are not living in the present because much of the present is mundane. So, the goal is to appreciate the unexciting events of your life as much as the exciting ones.
When you label every experience, the negative can outshine the positive because it is in our nature to dwell on something that didn’t meet our expectations. In doing so, you set yourself up to be emotionally distraught. Instead, when the judgemental thoughts arise, steer clear of them and focus on the task at hand. Nothing more, nothing less.
The good or the bad don’t matter. What matter is alertness and stillness in the present. Knowing that our judgments are unavoidable and necessarily limiting thoughts about experience. What we are interested in meditation is direct contact with the experience itself—whether it is of an inbreath, an outbreath, a sensation or feeling, a sound, an impulse, a thought, a perception, or a judgment. And we remain attentive to the possibility of getting caught up in judging the judging itself, or in labeling some judgments good and others bad.
So the simple exercise of focusing on your breath can be grounding. When you feel yourself becoming judgemental, take a break and focus on the inhale and exhale. That will bring you back to the present moment, the moment where you are fully engaged. And then go back to your work with that stillness. With practice, the ability to be non-judgemental and to be still becomes easier.
We get caught up in thinking we know what we are seeing and feeling, and in projecting our judgments out onto everything we see off a hairline trigger. Just being familiar with this deeply entrenched pattern and watching it as it happens can lead to greater non-judgmental receptivity and acceptance.
This detachment exercise is another way to separate yourself from your judgemental thoughts. Once you are aware of this concept, then when the judgemental thoughts bud, you can pick them off before they really grow and dominate your present situation.
It simply means that we can act with much greater clarity in our own lives, and be more balanced, more effective, and more ethical in our activities, if we know that we are immersed in a stream of unconscious liking and disliking which screens us from the world and from the basic purity of our own being. The mind states of liking and disliking can take up permanent residency in us, unconsciously feeding addictive behaviors in all domains of life. When we are able to recognize and name the seeds of greediness or craving, however subtle, in the mind’s constant wanting and pursuing of the things or results that we like, and the seeds of aversion or hatred in our rejecting or maneuvering to avoid the things we don’t like, that stops us for a moment and reminds us that such forces really are at work in our own minds to one extent or another almost all the time. It’s no exaggeration to say that they have a chronic, viral-like toxicity that prevents us from seeing things as they actually are and mobilizing our true potential.