Each Friday, we share three topical longreads in our Weekend Reader newsletter. This week, Rod Meade Sperry explores the real meaning of mindfulness. Sign up here to receive the Weekend Reader in your inbox.
“Mindfulness” is such a buzzword now that we might not even quite know what we mean when we say it. Ask yourself: Is it, A) a mind-state; B) a practice, C) a way of life, or — and the difference here is perhaps important — D) a lifestyle? Or might it be E), all of the above?
Such questions abound, in part, thanks to all the ways mindfulness has been packaged and presented as it’s gone mainstream in recent years — arguably, some of those ways may not be so good. Some, though, are inarguably good. What’s key, I reckon, is that the motivation behind one’s adoption of mindfulness goes way beyond what it might do for us individually. Ideally, mindfulness helps us to be more at one with everyone, to retain what makes each of us unique while helping us to see through false separation. It helps us mitigate suffering, but not just for ourselves.
Without mindfulness, the Buddha’s famed eightfold path to liberation and happiness would be only sevenfold — and therefore incomplete and, presumably, non-functioning. Mindfulness may be a quality that’s innate in us all, but teaching it so that it applies to the whole of life has always been a Buddhist specialty.
That’s the thinking behind our new special edition, The Buddhist Guide to Mindfulness: to publish the best dharma teachings about mindfulness, so that anyone — whether they’d ever call themselves Buddhist or not — can access and cultivate their capacity for mindfulness in order to benefit themselves, the people around them, and the whole world.
In this Weekend Reader, we’re sharing some of the great Buddhist mindfulness pieces we’ve had the honor to publish. Read them and quiz yourself again: What is mindfulness, to me? And what could it be?
Thanks for reading, and for your practice, whatever shape it takes!
—Rod Meade Sperry, editorial director, Lion’s Roar Special Projects and LionsRoar.com
When we practice mindfulness in our daily lives, says Thich Nhat Hanh, we open to the wonders of life and allow the world to heal and nourish us.
When I pour tea, I like to pour the tea mindfully. When I pour the tea mindfully, my mind isn’t in the past or the future, or with my projects. My mind is focused on pouring the tea. I’m fully concentrated on the act of pouring tea. Pouring tea becomes the only object of my mindfulness and concentration. This is a pleasure and it also can bring many insights. I can see that in the tea there is a cloud. Yesterday it was a cloud, but today it is my tea. Insight is not something very far away. With mindfulness and concentration you can begin to develop the insight that can liberate you and bring you happiness.
Intentional awareness has served Gretchen Rohr well in her challenging work as a magistrate judge in Washington, D.C.
Upholding the values shared by both my code of conduct and my practice while presiding over a high-volume court docket requires skillful effort—and some reliable tools. Indeed, if Martin Luther King, Jr. is right, and “Justice is power correcting everything that stands against love,” then every judge needs to acquire a set of personalized power tools.
A daily sitting practice, dedicated dharma study, and a network of spiritual friends are all part of my personal tool belt.
You can’t reduce mindfulness to just a single idea. Andrew Olendzki unpacks its many meanings in classical Buddhism.
Perhaps the best way to understand what mindfulness is, from a classical Buddhist perspective, is to recognize some of the things it is not.
Mindfulness does not just mean being aware or being conscious, because one is always conscious when not comatose or dead. Consciousness is the fundamental quality of mind, understood as an event that occurs rather than a thing that exists. As such, it is always present when any kind of experience takes place. If mindfulness meant to be aware, then we would always be mindful, automatically, in all circumstances.