The mind developed and evolved over millions of years to help mankind solve simple and more complex problems such as how to avoid the dangers posed by wild animals like the sabre-toothed tiger, to keep warm and safe, anticipate changing weather patterns and be better prepared and then to farm and ensure a more regular supply of food.
It was initially a tool and man recognised it as such, still relying on his relationship with nature and instincts to do what felt right. As the mind evolved with man, the mind, unfortunately, retained many of its qualities, one, in particular, being to anticipate danger in the future and focus on the hardships of the past in order to learn. Seeking out problems and the worst things that could happen became the norm even as many of the animals we originally feared simply became extinct.
Mindfulness is now the tool that is here to help us once more become the masters of the mind and recognise the mind as a tool and no more. Mindfulness is here to give us the ability to recognise these habitual patterns and no longer be fooled into believing those images in the mind as truths or fact. Mindfulness is perhaps the most powerful tool that anchors us back in the only reality that truly exists, the present moment. It puts that little bit of distance between us and our thoughts so that we can now begin to actually notice which thoughts are useful and which aren’t, discarding those.
I hope that rather than duplicate things that have already been written about Mindfulness, you will find something new in this website. Mindfulness is a Practice, and the word practice implies that you will not need to be perfect at it. Even the most ardent practitioner and even Meditation / Mindfulness teacher will tell you that Mindfulness always remains just that, a practice. There need not be a benchmark one needs to strive toward called perfection. We just do the best we can and remember that the practice is one in which, rather than aiming to stop thoughts or make the mind go blank, our real hope is to develop a new relationship with our mind.
Think of it as a sitting on the banks of a little stream. A stream that has parts with a fast current, and some with a slower flow, and either clear, muddy, clean or dirty. Sometimes carrying life – beautiful (or tasty) fish, precious metals and stones and flowers or other useful things whilst at other times perhaps carrying impurities, even poisons. We can simply sit on the banks of this stream, observing it flow past, listening to the gurgling of water and the sound of it crashing against the banks as it flows past. We can experience this without immersing ourselves in the stream.
This was simply an analogy to help us understand that in our practices of mindfulness, we will learn to develop a new relationship with our mind, one based on observing it from an elevated space, a space that is much bigger and higher, more loving and forgiving than the mind itself. Thus begins the journey in which we begin to observe our mind and step away from our identification with it.
Thoughts are not to our enemy, although they can sometimes seem to be when they drag into a past that is painful or a future that is unwanted and therefore causes fear or worry. Mindfulness aligns and anchors us into the present moment, the only moment there ever really is.
As we live more and more in the present moment (or the Now), we begin to get the ability to notice our thoughts and distinguish them from the real and present Now. We begin to notice that our thoughts always exist in the past or future. A vacuum of space begins to exist between our true selves and our thoughts as we practice Mindfulness. We will realise that we are not our thoughts and that we think our thoughts (and not the other way round where many of us feel like our thoughts are thinking us and we have little choice in being carried away in the thought stream). We begin to see our thoughts flowing past us as a thought stream, sitting on the banks of the stream and no longer swept away in the current of the stream.
As we begin to notice our thoughts, we will also begin noticing that we have a choice as to which ones to give our attention to. A cliched example would be the thought that shows us the glass as either half full or half empty. We will begin noticing that the mind is like a filter through which we translate all that we perceive through our senses. All that our senses pick up on are filtered through our mind and given meaning. Mindfulness gives us the element of choice in deciding which thought to translate what is seen, heard, smelt, touched and tasted.
The practice of Mindfulness leads to the slowing down of thoughts and sometimes stillness of the mind. This happens as we identify less and less with our thoughts. Imagine our identification with our mind as a power cord that supplies the mind with a surplus of energy that causes it to move so fast as for us to be unable to control our thoughts. As we practice Mindfulness, we pull the cord and the mind begins to slow down, but not in an unintelligent way. The intelligence that then surfaces comes from a knowing that is different from the beliefs accumulated through the years from the time of our birth.
As the mind begins to become still, we begin to tap into that part of our beings that is linked to nature and the world around us. We begin to tune into that part of ourself that is tuned into the “Force” George Lucas refers to in Star Wars, that invisible energy that is more subtle than atoms and molecules that surround us, and therefore invisible to our senses. It begins to guide us as we pay attention to it. Turn right instead of the left where it may not make sense at all at the time, perhaps avoiding an accident, traffic jam or simply meeting someone who has that important contract we were hoping to get or introduce us to that publisher who will publish our next book. On a more personal note, perhaps even a right turn that leads us to find that life partner who has been eluding us for so long.
Mindfulness turns our thoughts into our allies, particularly as we begin to understand that we are no longer our thoughts. We begin to realise that we have a choice as to which thoughts to give attention to and which ones to release. Thoughts will almost certainly continue to arise in the mind because it is the nature of the mind to think. We are not failing in our meditations or practice of Mindfulness just because our thoughts continue to arise, linger and fade away because this is the nature of the mind and the thoughts that make it.
The mind, like a piece of cloth, woven and made up of individual pieces of thread. The threads, in this case, being the individual thoughts. The thoughts being thought and conditioned into us from infancy, childhood and still ongoing as we go through adulthood. Our parents, teachers, peers, television, the media and advertising all leaving a significant thread or thought finally making up the beliefs we have at this time. Beliefs of ourselves, those around us, our gender, sexuality, position in life -financial, status, ethnicity and religious or spiritual beliefs and/or confidence and insecurities. These complex threads of different textures, colours, thickness and density levels combining to create our beliefs at any one time, through which we filter the present moment or the so-called “Now”.
Mindfulness allows us to begin becoming aware of these so-called filters through which we experience the world, so that we can now, in addition to that slightly distorted view, also experience the Now in its entirety, perhaps beyond and outside of the filters.