What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the practice of making things real. It liberates us from memories of the past and fantasies of the future by bringing the reality of the present moment clearly into focus.

It is only in the present that we can come to clarity about what we are sensing, feeling, thinking, wanting, and willing to do. Elements of mindfulness meditation are found in all the world's great contemplative traditions. In the Buddhist tradition it is called "insight meditation" or vipassana (Sanskrit), which means "to see clearly".

As our mindfulness grows, we discover many exquisitely wonderful things about the world around us. Henry Miller once said, "The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself."

With mindfulness we become more aware of life's everyday miracles and the awesome, subtle, intense, and exquisite, though transient, beauty of our world. As a result, our tender appreciation, gratitude, and compassion toward life and all living beings deepen.

Mindfulness also illuminates the discrepancies in our lives, so it takes courage to practice looking deeply into reality, to see ourselves and our world as they are.

As we look deeply, moment to moment, we recognize what is not working and become more sensitive to the tension and suffering within ourselves, within others, and in our world.

Mindfulness meditation opens our mind to more objectively behold the fleetingness of our joys and the immensities of the sorrows that come with life. It demagnetizes our fixations, our holding on to some experiences and pushing away others. As mindfulness grows we also begin to recognize more options, choices, resources, and opportunities in our lives. Synchronicities -- meaningful coincidences -- and insights become more a way of life.

Mindfulness gives rise to insights which ripen into wisdom, because the more deeply and clearly we are able to observe the reality of our mindbody and world, the more we will understand how and why things are as they are.

As we come to a deeper understanding of ourselves, we come to a deeper understanding of our humanity. Our joys, sorrows, fears, or anger teach us about the joys, sorrows, fears, or anger of all beings. These insights ripen our empathy, patience, tolerance, and kindness -- toward ourselves, and toward other living beings. Ane Pema Chodron put it this way:

"Learning how to be kind to ourselves, learning how to respect ourselves, is important. The reason it's important is that, fundamentally, when we look into our own hearts and begin to discover what is confused and what is brilliant, what is bitter and what is sweet, it isn't just ourselves that we're discovering. We're discovering the universe."

[Adapted from the book "Luminous Mind" by Joel & Michelle Levey]

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