I’d like to offer another reflection on the “definition” of mindfulness. I don’t believe mindfulness can really be described in words, so I offer this as another possible definition, in the spirit of a question to contemplate.
Mindfulness is wise compassion for the present moment.
What do I mean by this? What are the three essential elements of mindfulness?
Compassion: When I am mindful, I greet everything I am encountering in the moment with kindness, respect, and love. As best I can, I practice this when the moment is easy and pleasant, as well as when it’s difficult or painful. I start first with compassion for myself. Sometimes, just putting my hand on my heart, and taking three slow mindful breaths, helps me to soothe myself and to feel more ready to handle a difficult situation. Then, I try to bring that spirit towards whatever person(s) or situation I’m dealing with, whether it is walking my puppy, talking to my family members or friends, having a tough conversation with a co-worker, or just hanging out in nature and enjoying the moment.
Present Moment: The present moment is the only moment we have to be alive. With mindfulness, I can let go of getting stuck in regrets about the past (“I wish this hadn’t happened…”), and worries about the future (“What if….?”). Living in the present moment, I can savor the “good times” more. And, when I’m going through a “bad time,” I know I can ride the waves of stress and pain, one moment at a time, one breath at a time. This doesn’t mean I don’t care about the future, or that I pretend things in the past didn’t happen. But, I know that if I take good care of the present moment, that is also creating the best possibility for a positive future. Deep compassion in the present moment can even heal wounds and hurts from the past.
Wisdom: The word “wisdom” sometimes sounds like some far-off, mystical thing that a mere mortal like myself could never possibly attain. But I think we were all born with an innate, embodied wisdom, and we can train ourselves to tap into it more through attending to the present moment with an open heart and an open mind. With mindfulness, I can see a situation more clearly. When things are tough, as best I can, I get out of “lizard brain,” stress-driven, fight-flight-or-freeze mode. I invite slow breathing, clear thinking, and listening to the messages coming from my body (“heartfulness”). This helps me to know what to do, and what not to do, to help a situation. It helps me to practice compassion without being foolish, without allowing myself or others to become more hurt. For example, if a child is being abused or in grave danger of hurting themselves, I can clearly see that danger, and act firmly and decisively to protect the child. At the same time, I recognize that I am deeply interconnected with the child, with the abuser, and with all beings. My well-being is related to their well-being, and the same is true for pain. I recognize that my own judgment and anger and self-righteousness that arise in those moments are important signals that I can listen to and honor. I also know from my own experience that maintaining or acting out of anger usually ends up hurting myself, and making the situation worse. With mindfulness, I do my best to take care of my anger, and maintain compassion for everyone involved — again, starting with myself.
Wisdom, compassion, presence… These aren’t “goals” to “achieve,” but intentions that we can invite into our lives and practice, one step at a time, one breath at a time.
What does the word mindfulness mean to you?