We will begin with a brief introduction, just as the author does in the book: often the words mindfulness, meditation and awareness are interchangeable because they are all quite similar. Mindfulness and awareness are especially similar, and meditation is a practice that helps you become more aware. You can be meditating at any time; while washing dishes, hanging clothes on the line, or sitting quietly in a chair. Just to be clear, the three buzz words – mindfulness, awareness and meditation - can be considered as almost synonymous in meaning and ultimately all point to the same thing.
Understanding what mindfulness is, how it can be useful in your life, and how to begin practising it will help lay the foundations for deep personal growth, which will enable you to achieve great inner peace.
Before embracing mindfulness, people usually tend to react to life’s events out of instinct and habits. The more you cultivate mindfulness, the less you are likely to remain a slave to your own passing thoughts and emotions. After a while you learn to dig deep inside yourself, to literally press the "pause" button, which will help you calm down and manage stressful situations with confidence and ease. In a sense, the practice of mindfulness restores free will.
Cultivating mindfulness means living in somewhat of an alternative, yet more balanced way. People often try meditation to ease anxiety, emotional distress and physical pain, but regardless of why someone starts practising, they all usually have the same goal: to find a healthier way to experience life.
Mindfulness is often described as the practice of being present in any given moment, and to achieve this, the most important thing to do is to observe: give your full attention to what you are doing, and observe what is happening around you. If you observe with your full attention, using all five senses, you will begin to perceive much more than you ever have, and both the past and future will eventually disappear from your focus. This is a good thing, because thinking about the future creates anxiety, while thoughts about the past cause sadness and regret; observation, however, is only one aspect of the practice of mindfulness. Being totally immersed in the present moment is a very important part of it, and is the first step to bringing attention to everything that is happening here and now, whether that is a thought, an emotion, a task we are working on, or something else, but it’s only the beginning. Limiting the definition of mindfulness to being present would mean neglecting the many other important aspects of it.
A better, more thorough definition of mindfulness would be “being in the here and now with clarity, wisdom and kindness”. If you bring awareness to the present moment with judgement and anger, would it really help you become more aware? Of course not. To build a healthy and beneficial mindfulness practice, it is therefore necessary to cultivate a set of behaviours, attitudes and skills. Let's have a look at what they are.
Observing and focussing on the present, as we have said, is the first step.
The next is clarity: this is important because it allows us to see the truth: if we feel anxious, clarity will help us correctly identify the feeling as anxiety, so that we don’t mistake it for something else.
Then we must use our wisdom and learn to let go of judgement. Labelling what we see is unhelpful; to achieve inner peace we must learn to accept a given moment as it is, without trying to change it. It is also important to note that it is our reactions to events that really make us suffer, not the events themselves. So when we judge, we are more likely to suffer.
Balance is another important aspect of mindfulness: by maintaining a constant level of energy and effort in any given situation, regardless of what that situation might be, we can begin to build resilience and inner stability.
The concept of always cultivating a beginner’s mind is also important: the more we become familiar with what we know, the more likely we are to fall into the trap of operating on autopilot, the number one enemy of awareness. We must realise that there is so much we still have to learn in life, and try to stay curious and open to new experiences, which will make us more inclined to observe, and therefore be aware.
Never forget to be kind: to others and to yourself. Being unkind inhibits the ability to clearly observe. When you practice meditation, for example, try to approach it with kindness even if you think you might not be doing it right; this is normal, it is a practice, not a competition. Nobody will judge you if you find yourself struggling, and there is nothing wrong with you, which leads us to the last point.
Be patient. This is very important, and will be explained in more detail in the next chapter.