The term mindfulness, has always intrigued me. Even though there are some wonderful explanations of mindfulness, for me, it is solely an experiential. That being said, my intention each day is to be awake to all that is happening inside and outside of me, so I can respond from a place of wisdom. For me, that is mindfulness. Not an understanding, but an action.
In a grief program I ran for children who had experienced traumatic loss, we practiced gentle breaths and still bodies. Each child trained their attention by focusing on their breath and noting the emotions that arose. We worked on cultivating compassion by “taking a moment” before lashing out at someone on the playground or in their immediate family – what we, as adults might call, reflection. I knew that this exercise had really made a difference when one of my eight-year old’s, who had a significant history of “lashing out physically”, told me that what mindfulness meant to him was not hitting someone in the mouth on the playground when certain kids taunted him around his father’s tragic death. Upon reflection, his answer was so wise, so wide and so deep. It illustrated one of the most important uses of mindfulness – helping us to deal with difficult situations, which appear to be surrounding all of us these days.
What this wise child was saying is that we do not have to be our thoughts. When we are feeling sad and blue we often say to ourselves, “I am a sad person”, but if we bang our knee, we do not say “I am a sore knee”, – we tend to identify with our thoughts in a way we do not identify with our bodies. Most of the time, we think we are our thoughts. We have forgotten there is an aspect of our mind that is watching our thoughts arise and pass away. And this is the point of mindfulness; to get in touch with our witnessing capacity.
The point of mindfulness then, is getting in touch with this witnessing capacity. Consider imagining each thought as a visitor knocking at the door of your home. Your thoughts don’t live here; you can greet them, acknowledge them and then let them go, if you choose.
In our teaching, we know that thoughts become things, so choose the good ones. Mindfulness practice helps us to watch our thoughts, see how one thought leads to the next, know what we are thinking, when we are thinking, just as we want to know what we are feeling when we’re feeling it. Mindfulness allows us to watch our thoughts, see how one thought leads to the next, decide if we’re heading down an unhealthy path and if so, to change direction. It allowed my eight-year-old in grief recovery to see that who he is, was so much more than a fearful or angry thought. Just like my young friend, you too can rest in the awareness of your thoughts. You can extend compassion to yourself, if the thought makes you uncomfortable. You can rest in the balance and good sense you summon, as you decide whether and how to act on that thought – remembering you are always at choice.