Mindfulness is really going mainstream. It seems like almost every day there’s a new mindfulness book popping up on Amazon. But what is mindfulness, really? Is there more to it than slowly eating a raisin or paying attention to your breath?
To find out, watch the video below…
This is the first in a new series of videos I’m putting together that will help to demystify the practice of mindfulness and show you how you can use mindfulness to help you improve just about every aspect of your life! I hope you find these videos both useful and entertaining.
P.S. If you like this kind of stuff and want to discover how to develop mindfulness effectively and apply it in a simple, straightforward way, then you may be interested in signing up for my weekly blog updates.
I’ll share with you how to cultivate and apply mindfulness to transform your relationship with things like stress, anxiety, anger and other difficult emotions, based on my 20+ years of meditation experience.
I’ll also share a precise, effective, down to earth method for spiritual development (if that’s your thing), without all the fluff and hazy mystical language you’ll often run into with this kind of stuff.
If this sounds interesting to you, click here to find out more.
P.P.S. If you prefer reading to watching videos, I’ve included the full transcript below.
“Mindfulness is alert, receptive, equanimous observation of the present moment”
I can hear you thinking now, “Nick, what the heck is that supposed to mean?”
Let me unpack that a bit for you.
I think we all get what “alert” means, although in practice, there are a lot of subtleties hidden in that word. For example, how do you know, while meditating, or even while going about your day that you are actually alert or fully present, rather than kind of hazy or dull or not fully here? (Well, keep watching, I’ll show you an easy way to find out later in this video).
The next part of mindfulness is to be receptive. This means you try to accept everything that pops into your awareness. Instead of resisting the things you’d rather not experience, you do your best to stay curious and interested in them. This receptivity is related to the third part of the definition of the word mindfulness: “equanimous observation”.
“Equanimous observation” means to accept everything that appears in your awareness, and treat it all with an equal interest. That’s what equanimity is. This is a huge topic in itself, so I’m only going to touch on some of the basics here.
While being mindful, you do your best to accept whatever enters your awareness and just observe it as it is. See if you can just let it be, without trying to resist it or change it in any way. When you do this, you will discover something remarkable.
The things we normally experience as unpleasant, such as anger, sadness, anxiety, irritation, frustration, and so on, are made up of two parts: physical sensations in the body and thoughts in the mind.
The physical sensations are composed of feelings of pressure, temperature, prickles and itches and so on, and are changing all the time, coming and going all on their own. With mindfulness on board, you realize that these physical sensations, while sometimes quite intense, are not nearly as bad as you thought they were, and they don’t last nearly as long as you had expected. Just seeing that makes these sensations much more tolerable, much more manageable, because you’ve seen first hand that they’re short lived.
The thoughts are like little stories we tell ourselves. They go round and round, repeating again and again like a dog chasing it’s tail. When you observe these thoughts mindfully, you notice, just like with the physical sensations, that they pass away all on their own quite quickly. While the thoughts are present, if you buy into their content, if you believe them or take them as truth, they can cause a lot of agitation and can make you really miserable. But, you notice that if you just watch them with that receptive equanimity of mindfulness, they are just thoughts. They’re just mental objects that come and go on their own as long as you let them be and don’t mess with them.
So, for example, if you notice that you’re feeling kind of irritated, you can just observe that feeling, rather than try to do something to “fix it”. Really be curious about it. Try to discover what, exactly, feeling irritated is like, in this moment. How does it manifest in the body and in the mind? Be like a scientist who is trying to understand what irritation actually is. Really get to know it, without trying to get rid of it or avoid it or suppress it.
Notice that I said “in this moment.” That’s key. You’re being mindful of what your experience is right now. Not what you’d like it to be in the future, or what it was like at some point in the past. You’re focused on now, here, this moment.
Equanimity is observing with equal interest whatever you are experiencing in the moment, whether it’s pleasant, unpleasant or neither.
That means not trying to hold onto the pleasant experiences to make them last longer, not trying to avoid or change or get rid of the unpleasant ones, and not spacing out with the neutral ones or looking for something more interesting to pay attention to.
So mindfulness involves being alert, accepting whatever comes into awareness in this moment and allowing it to be there, without changing the experience in any way.
None of us start with this level of skill, of course. It’s something that develops over time. That’s why consistent, daily practice is so important.
There’s a lot more to say about mindfulness, but that’s probably more than enough for now. In a future video, I’ll get into the nitty-gritty of how to actually practice and develop mindfulness.
Oh, before I forget, I promised to show you an easy way to tell if you’re alert, or fully present. A really easy test for alertness is to use what I call the SNAT, or Sudden Noise Alertness Test.
If you hear a sudden noise, such as a door slamming or car honking, either while meditating or just going about your day, and it causes you to be startled, that means you weren’t actually alert. You weren’t fully present in that moment. At least part of you was in “la-la land”.
When you are completely alert, fully present, on your game, any sudden sensory input, such as a loud noise, doesn’t startle you at all, unless of course the noise is really loud and close to you.
So, if like most of us, you happen to live in a noisy urban environment, you can turn that to your advantage and use the SNAT to see how alert you are during the day, and in your meditation practice.