To be truly human is to be mindful. The direct awareness of present perceptions is one of the primary wonders of being human, enriching our life beyond measure. Yet in our ordinary mode of living, we exist somewhere below the level of mindfulness, at a largely unrecognized but terrible cost. Inadequate mindfulness shortens and impoverishes our life. Shortens it in the sense that we experience less when we are not in a state of mindfulness. Impoverishes it in the sense that what we do experience remains less vivid, less alive, less real to us than it could be. Mindfulness is the authentic state for a human being: a relaxed, open awareness of our inner and outer perceptions in this moment.
While mindfulness may be the birthright of all humans, to our great misfortune we sell it off cheaply. We spend the vast majority of our time unmindfully, our awareness passively collapsed to some tiny fraction of the whole, drifting along in a passing reverie or TV or radio, captured by anger, envy, lust, boredom, fear, or greed. Our lives go on without us. Time passes us by, leaving us unmoved, unfilled, and unaware, in a waking sleep. Fortunately, the remedy for our situation exists. And it is an easy one, easy but requiring perseverance.
Coming to, bringing our awareness back to the riches of this one moment can be as simple as basing ourselves in awareness of bodily sensations, in the breath, or in consciousness itself. We can readily enter mindfulness, at least for a moment or two. The more often we try it, the more we acquire a taste for it, and the longer we are able to stay in it.
Mindfulness means being aware of the constantly changing cavalcade of thoughts, emotions, sensations, sights, sounds, tastes, and aromas, without becoming lost or attached. We become the stream rather than the sticks, leaves, and other debris carried by it. Mindfulness is sometimes called choiceless awareness, to emphasize its non-clinging, non-grasping, open quality. Mindfulness is inherently compassionate, both toward ourselves and toward others. If we do not reject what we see in ourselves, if we can just open into the seeing, our heart also begins to open toward our neighbor.
To enter mindfulness, we ground our awareness in the sensations of body or breath, or in consciousness itself. These can serve as our base in the flow of experience. To practice mindfulness we begin by finding that comfortable home within ourselves, in ongoing awareness of bodily sensations or the breath. Having established that, we can then allow our awareness to expand to include any and all other elements of current experience, while maintaining awareness of our home base. When we notice, inevitably, that we have become attached, for example clinging to or rejecting some thought, emotion, or pain, and collapsing into it, we gently and gratefully return to mindfulness, broadening our awareness to include bodily sensations or the breath and starting again. We repeatedly return to mindfulness until it becomes our normal way of being. In quiet moments we come back into basic mindfulness itself: unencumbered, without boundaries, featureless, whole, the background of all experience.
The enormous dividends of this simple practice more than repay our efforts. On a personal level, mindfulness dramatically enriches our quality of life and offers healing, meaning and wholeness, while serving as one of the fundamental components of presence. On the level of the Earth, mindfulness opens us to a profound connection with other people and all of life. On the universal level, the practice of mindfulness serves the Great Whole, simply by transforming and raising the quality of our energies. But it is work and for those dividends to accrue, mindfulness needs to be pursued with diligence. By clearly seeing how things are in us, we avoid the trap of assuming we are already and even always mindful.