The first time I really started to delve into mindfulness was in 1995 when I picked up my first Thich Nhat Hand book “Zen Keys – A guide to Zen Practice” I spent the next twenty years on a journey of exploration into Buddhism, it was a very private journey. Until in 2014 my marriage ended and I had the freedom to dig deeper into what had intrigued me for most of my life.
I’m not a Buddhist, I could never label myself as a Buddhist or anything else to that matter. I have a deep respect for the Buddhist teachings but I’m no expert. To me Buddhism is fundamentally the truth, if studied it has the answers to the questions we seek in life. Buddhism is self exploration and self knowledge, through this we are better able to understand life.
Buddhist teachings are underpinned by compassion, it is about living in peace with ourselves, with others and in this place we call the universe. The daily practice of meditation helps us connect with ourselves, stay in the moment, feel what we are feeling and become fully present in our lives. It is how the Buddha found enlightenment, it is how we gain a greater understanding of ourselves.
I continue to explore Buddhism fully aware that even in my lifetime I will still only touch the surface. I don’t feel the need to be a Buddhist in the traditional sense. I am happy to learn, to take what I can from it and continue to respect the wise teachings through living according to what I learn.
One thing I honor and respect is that in all the years I have been attending Buddhist teachings, not once have I been approached to take refuge. I am left to explore in my own time, in my own way without any interference from the nuns or monks. And so I continue my journey in my own way.
Mindfulness is secular Buddhism
Eventually I discovered mindfulness and have been teaching it formally for a year now. However I am concerned about the way the West has taken mindfulness and turned it into some kind of new thing that we have just discovered. It concerns me that there is such an effort to distinguish it’s difference to Buddhism, when it can not be.
Mindfulness can make a huge difference to peoples lives but not by following a short course and then going about your business again. When we teach mindfulness, we must show people that:
Mindfulness is a way of life – it is a practice that needs to be practiced
Mindfulness is not about sitting in meditation for 15, 20 or 30 minutes a day, it’s not about listening to relaxing music while you sit crossed legged on the floor. Mindfulness is much more than this and that’s why it can not be taught, it must be practiced.
So what is Mindfulness?
In my humble view, this is what mindfulness is:
- Self Awareness and self knowledge
- Ability to stay still, silent and at peace
- To turn towards your difficulty, to stop avoiding pain and discomfort
- To practice compassion even to those that seek to hurt you, even to those that society try to demonise
- To build an inner strength, from fully accepting who you are, even your imperfections because nothing and nobody is perfect
- To understand and accept that nothing is permanent and change is the only constant
- To take nothing at face value, to look deeper into the eyes of another and see the truth
- Mindfulness is simple but not easy
- Mindfulness is about living in this moment, right now! There is no past or future except for the one that lives in your mind
There are two aspects to Mindfulness, the formal practice of meditation and the informal practice of staying in the present moment, in full awareness and presence, in your daily life.
That’s it, simple but not easy.
Of course this is my personal interpretation of Mindfulness, I’m no expert but I am practicing.