Mindfulness is being present, which is ignoring the past and future while focusing only on the present. Awareness is the state of being conscious of something. A mindful practice involves both and ultimately involves witnessing your mind wander and gently bringing your focus back to the here and now.
While being mindful may initially take a specific effort, awareness is a more natural way of being. As one becomes more mindful, awareness becomes a constant state. Both practices lead to a fulfilling, empathetic life style that grows in intensity.
There are many resources available to those of us interested in a pursuing a mindful practice. There are websites, blogs, apps for your smart phone and institutes, like the Center for Mindfulness at UMass Medical School www.umassmed.edu/cfm , which was founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Zinn tells us that:
“Mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, non-judgmentally, in the present moment.”
The image below conveys this quote in a graphic way, which is how I have learned to learn. I better understand complicated concepts, when they are presented in graphically like this.
One year ago, in January, 2016 I attended a 1 week mindfulness course offered by the Center for Mindfulness. It was a formative experience for me. I learned how to practice mindfulness in several ways: by sitting quietly and meditating but also by mindfully eating and walking mindfully. I learned about the benefits of living in the present, instead of in the past or the future.
Washing the Dishes
I learned how one can be mindful during a mundane task, like washing the dishes or getting dressed. I learned that by focusing completely on the experience, regardless how mundane, one begins to experience life more fully. I also learned about the concept of awareness and that a wandering mind is not a problem, which is explained below:
Awareness sees the whole picture. With it, we can experience life with a more open lens. We might think it’s a bad thing to notice the mind drifting, but actually the reverse is true. The fact we can see it means we’re opening to greater consciousness. It’s true that in mindfulness practice we’re cultivating a capacity to attend with greater stillness, stability, and strength. But with awareness, we can discover a way of being that isn’t caught in the reactive jumble of thought, sensation, and impulse, even when attention is drawn to it. (from the online article A Wandering Mind is Not a Problem)
Practicing awareness feels natural to me. It also goes hand-in-hand with a mindful practice. Being aware allows me to experience fully every part of my daily life, including the fun times as well as the not-so-fun times. It allows me to ‘step outside of’ my emotions and acknowledge what is happening around me as well to notice my thoughts and feelings. Becoming aware of uncomfortable moments, like those sad or angry feelings that can happen in our lives, do not seem as uncomfortable or threatening when viewed from a thoughtful, mindful perspective. More from the online article quoted above.
We’re called back to awareness when we notice the mind has wandered. Every noticing and every coming back inevitably happens in awareness. From this perspective, mind wandering isn’t a problem—indeed, noticing it means we’re starting to see our habitual patterns of perception more clearly. With awareness, we start to see that thoughts are just thoughts, sensations just sensations, sights just sights, and sounds just sounds.
This is one of my key goals in 2017: to be more mindful and more aware of all the experiences that make up my daily life, both the pleasant experiences as well as those that are more challenging.
My wish for you, dear reader, is also to have a mindfully aware 2017. I hope your goal setting for this new year brings you everything that you wish for as well.
Halliwell, E. (2015) Mind-Wandering is Not a Problem. http://www.mindful.org/mind-wandering-is-not-a-problem/