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What Exactly Is This Thing Called Mindfulness?

Just like working out or dancing produces a state of energy, being mindful about every little thing we do (brushing teeth, sitting, walking or eating) produces a state of energy called mindfulness

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Sometime in my late 20s leading into my early 30s I started dabbling in matters of the mind. So I learnt the Silva method of mind control, a bit of hypnotism, going on into zen, yoga and meditation. I loved yoga but I couldn't really meditate. I couldn't easily sit in one place with my eyes closed and concentrate on one thing. Sounds familiar? Then one day, I came across a book by an old and wise Zen master in which he says ‘wash the dishes for the sake of washing the dishes’ and when I did that, something happened to me. Along with the food and oil stains, my stress, worries, anxiety and unnecessary thinking also washed away. I felt new, fresh and clean. ‘Ah, I’m beginning to get the meaning of Mindfulness,’ I thought to myself.

Many moons, many mountains and many masters later, I could actually sit fairly still without letting my monkey mind play continuously with me. One day, I decided to go to the Zen master who had written the book that had inspired me to wash the dishes. His name was Thich Nhat Hanh and his monastery was called The Plum Village. On the day I arrived at the monastery, there was a light shower and a double rainbow appeared. I had never seen one before and as I stood and gazed at it in amazement, an old monk appeared beside me. After standing with me for a while, he turned to me and said ‘Its a sign my son. You have come here today and then this rainbow appears. You should become a teacher.”

“Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment of daily life. To be mindful is to be truly alive, present and at one with those around you and with what you are doing. We bring our body and mind into harmony while we wash the dishes, drive the car or take our morning shower. - Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh

In the monastery, the day begins with the bell being invited to ring at 3.45am. This idea of ‘inviting the bell’ is in itself a beautiful practice in mindfulness. 

‘When we invite the bell, it’s one of the means to call the joy in us, the tranquility in us, so that we can awaken the Buddha in us. There is a baby Buddha in each of us, and we have to be aware of it. When we invite the bell to sound, we have a chance to touch the Buddha in us, we have a chance to call the nature of Buddha in us, so it can manifest itself.’ teaches Master Thich Nhat Hanh 

By 4am, the monks assemble in their prayer hall for their prayers and meditation. At 5am, group sitting meditation would start. And at 6am, walking meditation. Followed by eating meditation (breakfast) at 7am. And if you are wondering how each activity can possibly become a meditation, let me tell you that when the bell sounds at 3.45 am, you are encouraged to practice teeth brushing meditation before going for sitting meditation!

Before telling you the details of life in the monastery next week, let me briefly explain something. When you add ‘ness’ to a word, it becomes a noun. Like happy becomes happiness, sad becomes sadness, mindful becomes mindfulness. And we all know a noun is a name, place, person or thing. And since these can't be names, places or persons, they have to be a thing! So if mindfulness is a thing, what could it be?

The answer lies in Thich’s definition that you read earlier. Mindfulness is an energy state. 

Just like working out or dancing produces a state of energy, being mindful about every little thing we do (brushing teeth, sitting, walking or eating) produces a state of energy called mindfulness.

‘Real meditation is how you live your life’ - Jon Kabat Zinn

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Gopi Krishnaswamy

The author is a Mindfulness Coach, Search Inside Yourself Teacher, Zentrepreneur and Creative Living Expert

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