Mindfulness — The Chinese character 念 is composed of two parts, the top 今 meaning "now; this" and bottom 心 signifying "heart; mind." (Depicted in the calligraphy below by Thich Nhat Hanh.)
This is a terrific piece of writing about mindfulness, which is a fantastic resource for anyone in any arena of life, whether you meditate or not:
Mindfulness is the quality and power of mind that is aware of what's happening—without judgment and without interference. It is like a mirror that simply reflects whatever comes before it. It serves us in the humblest ways, keeping us connected to brushing our teeth or having a cup of tea. It keeps us connected to the people around us, so that we're not simply rushing by them in the busyness of our lives. The Dalai Lama is an example of someone who beautifully embodies this quality of caring attention: after one conference in Arizona, His Holiness requested that all the employees of the hotel gather in the lobby so that he could greet each one of them before he left for his next engagement...
We can start the practice of mindfulness meditation with the simple observation and feeling of each breath. Breathing in, we know we're breathing in; breathing out, we know we're breathing out. It's very simple, although not easy. After just a few breaths, we hop on trains of association, getting lost in plans, memories, judgments and fantasies. This habit of wandering mind is very strong, even though our reveries are often not pleasant and sometimes not even true. As Mark Twain so aptly put it, "Some of the worst things in my life never happened." So we need to train our minds, coming back again and again to the breath, simply beginning again.
Slowly, though, our minds steady and we begin to experience some space of inner calm and peace. This environment of inner stillness makes possible a deeper investigation of our thoughts and emotions. What is a thought—that strange, ephemeral phenomenon that can so dominate our lives? When we look directly at a thought, we see that it is little more than nothing. Yet when it is unnoticed, it wields tremendous power. Notice the difference between being lost in a thought and being mindful that we're thinking. Becoming aware of the thought is like waking up from a dream or coming out of a movie theater after being absorbed in the story. Through mindfulness, we gradually awaken from the movies of our minds.
What, too, is the nature of emotions—those powerful energies that sweep over our bodies and minds like great breaking waves? In a surprising way, mindfulness and the investigation of emotions begin to deepen our understanding of selflessness; we see that the emotions themselves arise out of conditions and pass away as the conditions change, like clouds forming and dissolving in the clear open sky...
On the subtlest level, we learn not to identify with consciousness itself, cutting through any sense of this knowing faculty as being “I” or “mine.” As a way of cultivating this radical transformation of understanding, I have found it useful to reframe meditation experience in the passive voice; for example, the breath being known, sensations being known, thoughts being known. This language construction takes the "I" out of the picture and opens us to the question, "Known by what?" And rather than jumping in with a conceptual response, the question can lead us to experience directly the unfolding mystery of awareness, moment after moment.
The wisdom of understanding selflessness finds expression in compassion. We might say that compassion is the activity of emptiness. Compassion arises both on the personal level of our individual relationships and on the global level of great cultures and civilizations interacting with one another. The integration of the understanding of our own minds with what is happening in the world today has enormous implications.
— Joseph Goldstein
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