The following is taken directly from notes given to us by the course leaders:
Mindfulness is an ancient Buddhist practice which has profound relevance for our present day lives. This relevance has nothing to do with Buddhism per se or with becoming a Buddhist, but it has everything to do with waking up and living harmony with oneself and the world. It has everything to do with examining who we are, with questioning our view of the world and our place in it, and with cultivating some appreciation for the fullness of each moment we are alive. Most of all it has to do with being in touch.
From the Buddhist perspective, our ordinary waking state of consciousness is seen as severely limited and limiting, resembling in many aspects an extended dream rather than wakefulness. Meditation helps us wake up from this sleep of automaticity and unconsciousness, thereby making it possible to live our lives with access to the full spectrum of our conscious and unconscious possibilities. Sages, Yogis and Zen masters have been exploring this territory systematically for thousands of years; in the process they have learned something that may be profoundly beneficial in the West to counterbalance our cultural orientation toward controlling and subduing nature rather than honouring that we are an intimate part of it. Their collective experience suggests that by investigating inwardly our own nature as beings and, particularly, the nature of our own minds through careful and systematic self-observation, we may be able to live lives of greater satisfaction, harmony and wisdom. It also offers a view of the world that is complementary to the predominantly reductionist and materialistic one currently dominating Western thoughts and institutions. But this view is neither particularly Eastern nor mystical. Thoreau saw the same problem with our ordinary mind state in New England in 1846 and wrote with great passion about its unfortunate consequences.
Mindfulness has been called the heart of the Buddhist meditation. Fundamentally, mindfulness is a simple concept. Its power lies in its practise and its applications. Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moments and non-judgementally. This kind of attention nurtures greater awareness, clarity and acceptance of present-moment reality. It wakes us up to the fact that our lives unfold only in present moments. If we are not fully present for many of those moments, we may not only miss what is most valuable in our lives but also fail to realise the richness and depth of our possibilities for growth and transformation.
A diminished awareness of the present moment inevitable creates other problems for us as well through our unconscious and automatic actions and behaviours, often driven by deep-seated fears and insecurities. These problems tend to build over time if they are not attended to and can eventually leave us feeling stuck and out of touch. Over time, we may lose confidence in our ability to redirect our energies in ways that would lead to greater satisfaction and happiness, perhaps even to greater health.
Mindfulness provides a simple but powerful route for getting ourselves unstuck, back into touch with our own wisdom and vitality. It is a way to take charge of the direction and quality of our own lives, including our relationships within the family, our relationships to work and to the larger world and planet, and most fundamentally our relationship with our self as a person. The key to this path, which lies at the root of Buddhism, Taoism and yoga; in the works of people like Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman; in Native American wisdom, is an appreciation for the present moment and the cultivation of an intimate relationship with it through a continued attending to it with care and discernment. it is the direct opposite of taking life for granted.
The habit of ignoring our present moments in favour of others yet to come leads directly to a pervasive lack of awareness of the web of life in which we are embedded. This includes a lack of awareness and understanding of our own mind and how it influences our perceptions and our actions. It severely limits our perspective on what it means to be a person and how we are connected to each other and to the world around us. Religion has traditionally been the domain of such fundamental inquiries within a spiritual framework, but mindfulness has little to do with religion, except in the most fundamental meaning of the word, as an attempt to appreciate the deep mystery of being alive and to acknowledge being vitally connected to all that exists.
When we commit ourselves to paying attention in an open way, without falling prey to our own likes and dislikes, opinions and prejudices, projections and expectations, new possibilities open up and we have the chance to free ourselves from the straitjacket of unconsciousness.
Mindfulness is the art of conscious living. You don’t have to be a Buddhist or a Yogi to practice it. In fact if you know anything about Buddhism, you will know the most important point is to be yourself and not try to become anything you are not already. Buddhism is fundamentally about being in touch with your own deepest nature and letting it flow out of you unimpeded. It has to do with waking up and seeing things as they are. The word “Buddha” simply means one who has awakened to his or her own nature.
So, mindfulness will not conflict with any beliefs or traditional religious or scientific views, nor is it trying to sell anything- especially not a new belief system or ideology. It is simply a practical way to be more in touch with the fullness of your being through a systematic process of self-observation, self-inquiry and mindful action. There is nothing cold, analytical or unfeeling about it. The overall tenor of mindfulness practice is gentle, appreciative and nurturing. Another way to think of it would be heartfulness.
“A student once said, ‘When I was Buddha it drove my parents and friends crazy, but when I am a Buddha, nobody is upset at all.'”
Jon Kabat-Zinn WHEREVER YOU GO THERE YOU ARE, Mindfulness, Meditation For Everyday Life Piatkus Books Ltd Great Britain 1994
Source: Mindfulness Course, Tunbridge Wells, 2013