Is Mindfulness Enough?

Is Mindfulness Enough?

Over the past decade our media channels have been flooded with articles in the management and the literature proclaiming the marvels of mindfulness.

It’s been embraced by celebrities, business leaders, politicians and athletes; and recommended by doctors, clergy, psychotherapists and prison wardens.

Apps and bestselling books touting the benefits of mindfulness as well as meditation proliferate. Google “mindfulness” and you’ll get over 24 million hits.  ”Are we in the midst of a “mindfulness revolution”?  This movement presents mindfulness as the panacea for all ills ranging from individual unhappiness to lack of work productivity. And if so, can its claims be justified?

We know that mindfulness can improve quality of life, but one needs both present-moment awareness to see what is happening and the focus to create the change that is needed to improve a situation.  This is where being “just mindful” is not enough.  It does not have any power to create a force for positive change.

Mindfulness Defined

Mindfulness is a mental skill that cultivates awareness in the here and now. It can serve as a means to help you take a skillful action. Unfortunately, popular “mindfulness training” often equates mindfulness practice with only observation, leading one to become self-absorbed in themselves. It certainly can lead to compassion and understanding; but this awareness must go one step further to serve the greater good of our existence.

The ancient tradition of mindfulness does indeed take this into account. However, the proactive training somehow got segmented out without taking the holistic view. In other words, mindfulness training (vipassana) developed in wisdom traditions contextualized the practice within a moral universe. The practice supported becoming more effective, mentally, in order to live ever more virtuously and serve to create the positive change in the self, community and nation. These were ancient traditions, but their message remains relevant today.

So why is Mindfulness not Enough?

Think of this scenario. You are out in the ocean riding waves on a water device perhaps a surf board, body board or kayak. You are out in the surf far from the beach where you set out. In fact you can see where you have left your belongings because there is an umbrella there. You want to ride a wave into the shore. So you watch the sets of waves; they usually come in patterns of three. You decide that the next one you will take into the shore. The cross currents are many and there are some that will take you south when you want to head to the north point where you have your umbrella set. You are mindful of the currents and where the shoreline is. If you just go with that, you will certainly ride the wave in, but will end up going south quite a distance from where you want to be. If you focus your mind on the shore point where you want to land, you will be able to guide your board along with the cross currents but will guide your board to the point where you want to end up. This example clearly shows that putting mindfulness into focus is needed if you are heading north and don’t want to end up south. Mindfulness in focus is most effective to reach your destination and accomplish your goal. This demonstrates that mindfulness alone is not enough.

Some points to consider:

  • Mindfulness can help you notice the women living in their villages throughout India in poverty. But your mindfulness won’t change her condition, nor will it fill your heart. You have two options. If you have money to offer, then use it to donate to a humanitarian project supporting women. If you have time you can set an intention and lead the cause and develop jobs for the women to gain economic freedom. For you — as for the community— each drop matters immensely.
  • Mindfulness can help you stay calm when your kids are out of control and you feel like running away. Instead of losing your centeredness, and escalating the drama, you’ll be more likely to stay present so you can offer patience and comfort, but what is needed in addition is firm direction and discipline which requires that you focus your intention and take action to creating positive change.
  • Mindfulness increases the chance that you’ll actually see when cruelty impacts another human being. But noticing isn’t enough. You’ve got to take action with focused intent while protecting yourself, just for the violence to end. Do what you can do to intervene, to stop perpetrators from doing more harm to others and the communities.
  • Mindfulness supports emotional balance and can help you stay present even when reality sears you with pain. But what do you do with the flooded feelings and thoughts.  By utilizing the skill of focus, you can redirect your own thoughts but also, assist in the situation even if you are far away.  Focus is a living force that when put in a positive direction, lends itself to positive change.

Applying mindfulness in real time takes the familiarity of regular practice. Training your mind regularly strengthens your mental fitness. Just as running on the treadmill prepares you for the race of life, practicing mindfulness improves your ability to find and follow a moral compass. This way, staying present contributes to skillful and compassionate action.

Moving Into Positive Change with Focused Awareness

While mindfulness is a good start, I would prefer to say, let’s become more aware. Awareness training is a more broader concept that takes us out of our heads and into our hearts. When we learn to focus this awareness then we can become the force for positive change within ourselves as well as within our families and communities.

To get started, learn meditation. Meditation is a skill that brings mindfulness into focus and trains the mind to be clear, tranquil and powerful. This process starts with learning to sit with steadiness and comfort, breath correctly to activate the nervous system, and relax on all 5 levels of your being. Learning to meditate will serve to introduce you to yourself and learn to live in the world but not be tossed around even during the tumultuous times.

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