These terms ‘mindfulness’ and ‘meditation’. Hmm. Both words are used in a host of different ways, some of them pretty weird and wonderful. In my quest to present a down-to-earth view that you can trust, I’d like to talk about how I use the terms.
First of all mindfulness. Mindfulness is a quality of mind, an attitude that you bring to the things you do. So you can mindfully set the table, you can mindfully wash the car. To that degree it just means attentive. But it’s not as simple as just saying to yourself ‘pay attention’. It’s not forcing your attention on it. It’s not the same as ‘concentrate!’.
Bringing a mindful attitude to something you do means that you know that your attention will wander, and you are able to gently bring it back to where you want it.
There’s a world of difference from telling yourself to pay attention.
I didn’t say your attention may wander. That would suggest that if you were doing it properly it wouldn’t wander. It will.
So we start from where we are. When we notice that our attention has wandered, we don’t make a drama of it. We don’t give ourselves a good talking-to. We don’t grit our teeth or tighten our lips and force our attention back to the book we’re reading or whatever. We simply notice it and come back to the task in hand.
We don’t talk about concentrating when we’re watching our favourite comedian on Live At the Apollo or playing a games console. We just do it.
Similarly mindfulness is for every moment in life and it enhances every moment you bring it to. With mindfulness you can enjoy just about any activity, because with that quality of attention you find things to enjoy in it.
Don’t think of it as a ‘state’ that you have to get into. That makes it too special. It’s really very ordinary but it brings a sense of harmony, balance and even beauty to the ordinary. And it’s not something you do, so much as something you cultivate.
In the next post I’ll talk about how I use the word ‘meditation’.