Mindfulness, the power of being in the present – 1st part

There is a model in nature that exemplifies with singular precision the spectacular phenomenon that we are witnessing today in relation to Mindfulness; this is none other than the growth process of Chinese bamboo.

It seems that the Chinese bamboo seed has a characteristic of staying underground for five years or more, rooting deeply, while on the surface apparently nothing happens.  Anyone could walk past the area and not discover that beneath the surface layer of the earth’s crust one of the most fantastic processes that exists in nature is generating the construction of solid foundations, deep and stable through the expansion of the roots of what will later become one of the highest and consolidated trunks that Nature provides. They say that at the end of the fifth year, the seed of the Chinese bamboo hatches and aims towards the surface, growing in an amazing rate, perceptible to the naked eye by an attentive observer until reaching a height of twenty-five meters in only six weeks.

And this is what has happened with Mindfulness, especially here in Spain. We are witnessing the birth of  seeds which were planted in the 1980s in the United States, and that today, here in Spain, thousands of people are interested; It fills hundreds of medical and psychological publications, is discussed in high-profile television programs, developed in talks and conferences throughout the country, popularized by numerous articles in magazines and in thousands of posts on websites and blogs, and the most interesting, is practiced by more and more people who adhere to the mindful movement, that is, to the cultivation of Mindfulness.

The truth is that the growth of interest that awakens Mindfulness is overwhelming. It is as if, after thousands of years, in the West, we have discovered a magic tool that can help us to be happier, with all that this entails; live more calmly and at peace, enjoy better health, be more compassionate, have a greater capacity for tolerance, respect …, be able to connect with ourselves and with others from the heart, etc … All these, nuances or small pieces of a wonderful puzzle of the precious good that we all yearn for which is non other than happiness.

And I say in the West because these techniques have been practiced for thousands of years in the East…

What is mindfulness?

The word mindfulness is the English translation of the word sati in Pali, the language used in the Buddha’s time, 2500 years ago. As in ancient Sanskrit, in the Pali language we find numerous terms for concepts of psychological and metaphysical nature, which do not exist in our modern languages, which are so prepared for communication within the fundamentally materialistic worldview in which we move. Today we have multiple words and definitions to refer to technical, technological or scientific concepts; numerous communication resources to speak with terminology appropriate to our market society. However, we still have a long way to go to match the richness of ancient languages, which are so very prepared and structured to speak to the heart in their own symbolic language.

The word sati designates the activity of consciousness when it is present and awake. But considering that sati is the nominalization of the verb sarati which means remembering or recalling, we should translate it as the capacity to «remember to be in the present with the awakened conscience» or the ability of the mind to «remind» us to be in the present, that is, constantly going back to the here and now. We could say that this «mindfulness moment» is a flash of pure consciousness that lasts a fraction of a second and that occurs at the moment we realize something in the form of experience. After that interval of «lucidity», the mind is responsible for processing the skill with all the additions of our subconscious and translate it into understandable words, losing the freshness and liveliness of the exact second in which the event occurred.

That is why it has been very difficult for us to find a term in our modern languages that could define this specific process of consciousness. The term that was thought to best suit its meaning would be that of «Mindfulness» which should not be confused  with Mindfullness, which is exactly the opposite: mind full of concepts and noises.        

The truth is that in the field of health and psychology, instead of using the term «meditation» the term «mindfulness» is already used as a synonym.

Many have been the definitions of Mindfulness postulated by some of its pioneers:

The awareness of what emerges in the present moment, with purpose and without judgment.

Kabat Zinn

Self-regulation of attention, orienting it towards the present moment, with curiosity, openness and acceptance.

Bishop

To know what is experienced at the time you are experiencing.

Guy Armstrong

The universal and basic human capacity that consists in the possibility of being aware of the contents of the mind moment by moment.

Vicente Simón

It is the action of developing and maintaining a kind of special attention to a present experience, moment by moment, with an attitude of radical acceptance, free of all control and value judgments.

Israel Mañas

Awareness of present experience, moment by moment, with acceptance.

Germer

It is the clear and simple mental awareness of what is happening to us and within us in the successive moments of perception.

Nianaponika Thera

And merging them all we would define Mindfulness as the full attention maintained during the processes and internal states perceptible moment to moment … (sensations, emotions, thoughts, images, surrounding aspects …). Without judgments, with curiosity, acceptance and with a friendly and kind attitude towards the object that is contemplated (Kabat Zinn, Grossman, Niemann, Shmidt, Walach …).

Principles of Mindfulness

The first postulate of Mindfulness that is extracted from the definition itself is none other than «living in the present», in the here and now, moment by moment, since this is the only time we have in our hands and in the one that we can act from the BEING. The past no longer exists, it will never return … It is a time whose memory often generates remorse, guilt, frustration …. The future is about to come, it has not arrived yet … A glimpse of it provokes uncertainty, fear, insecurity, restlessness … Thus rumination about the past or the future are presented as sources of stress, anguish and suffering. Only the present is neutral, being willing to receive our interpretation of the moment.

The Dalai Lama says: There are only two days in the year when nothing can be done, one is called yesterday and another tomorrow. Therefore today is the ideal day to love, grow, do and most of all live.

Only the present, instant by instant, belongs to us and only from that present can we connect with our source of essential wisdomn which is beyond the enormous layer of conditioning, habits, resources and instinctive mechanisms with which our Being shelters. An immeasurable or potential essence of values intrinsic to the human being that all the spiritual traditions of humanity have told us about:

In Hinduism it is said that the creator God Brahma is dissolved inside all creatures as salt dissolves in water … or as the spark of fire in the wood before it ignites. The wisdom of the ancient Egyptians says that when the god Ra contemplated his Creation, divine tears of Love sprang from his eyes … and from those tears human beings were born. In Christianity we find the famous phrase, the kingdom of God is within us. And in Buddhism it is said Clean your being of impurities and you will see your Budha nature shine within. In other words, all of them speak to us of the same and unique reality, the divine essence that inhabits the interior of all beings.

According to this, we have all the powers of the Being within us. We only need to connect with our deeper nature to have access to those capacities, which can only be accessed from the «Presence» (mindfulness) and in the «present» moment (in the here and now).

Another of the fundamental ingredients of the practice of Mindfulness is to be able to observe processes «without judging them and without judging» ourselves. That is, from the neutrality of the silent observer who watches the processes from his watchtower, being able to stop the world a few moments to be able to choose the free and conscious response, the balanced interpretation, instead of reacting instinctively to the event. This also implies a mood of «acceptance» of the fact as it appears and disappears, with its natural impermanence, without wanting to control it or fight against it, without adding or removing anything …, with confidence; since it is about life itself manifesting itself and how can life bring us something that is not the best for each moment ?. We constantly act in a hedonistic way accepting and provoking what we like or want, and rejecting or denying what we dislike. Nothing more contrary to the Mindfulness attitude. The magnificent reflection of H.P. comes to mind. Blavatsky says: «Do not complain, because what you think of sufferings and obstacles are in reality the mysterious efforts of nature to help you in your work if you know how to take advantage of them». There is nothing better for the Being than to leave behind reactive and unpredictable old patterns of our mind that have conditioned us so much and begin to cultivate a creative response proper to conscious, free and responsible beings and that is in accordance with that other principle of trust in Life… let yourself flow within it

And how can we not mention the beginner’s mind that every practitioner of the Art of Living should cultivate. This concept extracted from Buddhist psychology and philosophy suggests a set of qualities that we could define as «the way of looking at and seeing the world of a child». Siddharta Gautama, who would later be the Buddha, remembers his first moment of spiritual absorption as a child. Tradition tells that Prince Siddhartha accompanied his father to a vintage festival, and at a certain moment, he retired to observe what was happening around him with curiosity, illusion, purity, implication …, mental openness; as if he saw and felt things for the first time. At that time, they say that the child experienced his first spark of enlightenment, a state of higher consciousness that would accompany him frequently throughout his life and that allowed him to reach liberation from suffering and ignorance, and become a Buddha or Enlightened .

From all this it follows that another of the qualities of Mindfulness and that all practitioners need to develop, is active patience. Do not seek or wait for the benefits of the action, which although they will come by inexorable law, we can not be trapped by that mental trap that enslaves us to the result; and allow life to be expressed naturally, without haste or hindrance, with full confidence, unfolding at your own pace all that experience has to give. Something that is very easy to say and quite difficult to execute because of the poor education that we have received in the West, of wanting to get things done «by yesterday» and with the least possible effort. This generates a state of impatience and agitation, sometimes compulsive, which undermines our physical, psychological and mental health, and which makes life slip out of our hands without savoring it or extracting all the wisdom of the moment.

If I had to say in one word what is the greatest advantage that can be obtained from the practice of Mindfulnes, I would say that it is «self-knowledge». On the one hand, to know the tendencies of our mind (the toxic and the healthy), to observe the learned conditions and the infiltrated prejudices, to detect the unconscious habits and the reactive-instinctive mechanisms established in our character; and on the other hand, to realise and take full consciousness (with all that entails) of the magnitude of the Being that dwells within us with its qualities of Love, Compassion, Nobility and Equanimity.

And if I had to tell you what is the greatest satisfaction we can have when practicing day to day Mindfulness, I think it is to feel the connection with the Being; the fullness of realising the power of broad, relaxed, receptive and trusting consciousness; the knowledge of conscious man or woman, free and responsible for that freedom, protagonist of your choices … And of course, the subtle but full satisfaction of feeling that you are Present in the present, with all the resources at your disposal.

The truth is that it is a difficult feeling to explain with words. It’s like living in a place above the clouds, where the sun always shines. It’s like floating, observing the world with equanimity and detachment, above the things that normally trap you, weigh you down or anchor you. It is to feel one with others, in harmony with the whole human family … It is to know oneself in peace with Life and in unity with the Whole …

I have to confess that the idea-light that guides my meditation every morning is: «I have nothing to do, nowhere to go, no one to become, no role to represent …, just be with myself, give me this moment of connection, of full presence, of serene happiness … Resting in the expanded consciousness, in peace, confident and imperturbable in the midst of all the changes of existence … ».

Herminia Gisbert