In The Elements of Style, the classic manual on good writing, E.B. White says “style takes its shape more from attitudes of mind than from principles.” Just the same, mindfulness—the theme of this special issue—is about an attitude of mind, about letting go of the project of creating ourselves and instead paying gentle, firm attention to whatever presents itself. One moment after another.
If that’s all there is to it, then what’s the big deal?
While White praised style as an attitude of mind, he did so in the context of a book that contained injunctions, guidelines, suggestions, rules, and principles. And so it is with mindfulness. While the essence of mindfulness is timeless and beyond description, it can be teased out, and methods can be taught that tend to bring it forth. Like style, it cannot be manufactured, but it can be known.
This issue is packed with ways to discover mindfulness and awareness—our innate human inheritance. We’ve been able to assemble such a collection because a tipping point has been reached; the coming decade will see the emergence of mindfulness in many areas of life and society. Lots of people sense that we need to try out new ways of living, because many of the old ones are not working out so well—for our bodies, our communities, our environment, our world.
As editor of the Mindful Society department we started a year ago, I’ve met many accomplished mindfulness practitioners, which has given us the faith that there is a world of stories needing to be told about mindfulness. The Shambhala Sun Foundation is making a commitment to investigate, report on, comment on, and above all publish the work of mindfulness teachers, researchers, and practitioners—even more than we already have and through whatever vehicles the new (and old) media make available. We will happily serve as a cross-pollinator and incubator of ideas and methods. We want to support the great work done by this movement’s pioneers and help develop the means for mindfulness to become an everyday thing.
We will need—together with our readers and contributors—to clarify what’s included in the movement we’re covering and helping to spread. Mindfulness is what the Buddha practiced, but as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn explains in my interview with him in this issue, it is not the property of any one tradition. He also notes that it’s inevitable that something beneficial will at times be reconfigured into something with lower aims, but he and his colleagues, like us, have a big-tent attitude. Inviting in all those with a good heart and an intention to discover a way of living less caught up with self and more about just being—finding relaxation and awareness to be our natural state.
The big tent we’re erecting in mainstream America includes both mindful living and what we’ve been calling “mindful society”—two aspects of the same fundamental quality. In promoting mindful living, we report on its personal aspect: how to practice mindfulness, how to approach life mindfully, and how to plumb greater depths of the practice. In promoting mindful society, we report on its community aspect: who is doing what in health, law, business, defense, activism, athletics, the arts, and so on. Authentic mindfulness is never stingy and self-confirming; it seeks to rediscover itself in the works of others. As a result, concern for the greater community also means having under our tent disciplines that exhibit mindfulness but don’t necessarily carry the label, including, for example, social and emotional learning, the slow food movement, contemplative arts and education, alternative dispute resolution, and innovative models of strategic thinking.
There are several key elements to genuine mindfulness, which you’ll see reflected in various ways in this issue. The foundation of all mindfulness is instruction in the nonconceptual practice of just being here. Out of that develops approaches for working with obstacles (such as wandering thoughts and laziness) and negativity (such as frightening or aggressive states of mind). But mindfulness is not only about what to reject; it’s about what to embrace and how to let awareness unfold choicelessly, so there’s lots for seasoned practitioners to say about how daily living can become a path, a feedback system, and something to savor and celebrate.
Finally, as mindfulness flowers into a rich blend of mindfulness–awareness that ties the whole room together, we recognize interdependence: our connectedness to others and to all the world’s processes. The way the world works is the way we work. We are not mindful. Mindfulness just is, timelessly, and there is no emerging decade of mindfulness to make a big deal about. And yet…