We are all capable of being present and aware, but we often ignore this capacity and distract ourselves in some way – through TV, internet, drugs, video games, food, excessive thinking and so on. Right now we have many distractions available to us – essentially anything that causes us to lose present awareness is a distraction.
Practising Mindfulness helps us to re-connect with that part of ourselves that is present and aware. As we do this, we discover that it is our present awareness which contains much of our intelligence and creativity. It shines a light on our lives, and gives us a sense of direction and purpose.
Without present awareness, our lives become dull, repetitive, and lacking in joy and a sense of deeper meaning.
We’re just doing the same old thing day in and day out without any overarching sense of what this is all about.
To understand what mindfulness practice can do for us, it is helpful to understand something about the mind itself. There are three broad layers to the mind:
- The brain and its biochemistry (hardware layer)
- Our thinking processes such as beliefs, attitudes and values (software layer)
- Mindfulness or awareness (the programmer)
We live our lives according to whatever beliefs and values we have picked up from our culture and family. If we don’t have a clear set of values, or our beliefs are deluded or misguided in some way, our lives will become misdirected – and we’ll end up increasingly anxious or depressed, or suffering in some other way.
This will have an impact on our brain chemistry. Modern medicine attempts to cure our anxiety or depression by prescribing medications to ‘fix’ the biochemistry in the brain. This may give us some symptomatic relief, but it fails to deal with the cause of the problem, which is our erroneous or misguided thinking process.
Entering into therapy is one way of dealing with this cause. Another way is through Mindfulness practice.
When we practise Mindfulness, we tap into the intelligence and wisdom that lies hidden behind all of our conditioned thinking and inherited beliefs.
By watching and reflecting on our thought process in a state of present awareness we start to have ‘light bulb’ moments – what Buddhists call Vipassana or insight.
These ‘A-ha’ moments serve as powerful wake up calls that, over time, will start to infuse and re-shape our erroneous attitudes and beliefs. We start to develop a clear value system which will give a new meaning and direction to our lives - a direction that is in harmony with who we really are. And because we are directing the process, the changes happen in a way that we can digest and integrate with minimal discomfort.
As this happens, our anxiety and depression will diminish by themselves, and we find a natural joy, peace and harmony becoming more and more a part of our daily lives.
It is worth noting that Mindfulness practice – and Buddhism generally – does not prescribe a set of beliefs or rules that we are expected to follow.
There is a set of teachings – known as Dharma – but these are presented as a working hypothesis that each practitioner must investigate and verify for themselves. This is done primarily through Mindfulness practice, and by experiencing the ‘A-ha’ moments that it brings.
Frank Vilaasa is a counsellor, healer and meditation teacher living in Fremantle WA. He is the author of What is Love? – the spiritual purpose of relationships and can be contacted at www.awaken-love.com