Pedagogica: Mindfulness

Mindfulness (in the intercultural field we often call it a “awareness") has garnered such a juicy portion of psychobabble, that we really need to pay attention to exactly what we mean by it. For me it is essentially the act of doing our best to posit ourselves in a neutral point where we are capable of listening to our listening, the flow of discourse (emotional/physical as well as inner chit-chat and imaging) while at the same time recognizing that it is our autonomous system attempting to provide us with interpretations of the realities we are experiencing, or sometimes rather unfocused flow, what we call daydreaming. 

Essentially, listening is accomplished by the autonomous system delivering potential interpretations (simply put, “talking to ourselves”) and our then choosing which inner conversation that we are hearing seems most fit the reality we are living by and the needs we are experiencing as a result of it. 

It is important to remind ourselves that from an intercultural perspective that the “conversations” we are having with ourselves are actually our culture speaking to us, interpreting and shaping. When I use the word “conversations” it is shorthand for the combinations of self-talk, images, sounds, and feelings generated and flowing from what Daniel Kahnemen calls “thinking fast”. Mindfulness means observing, listening to these conversations, these spontaneous frames or schemata, recognizing their import and, if needed, engaging in further deliberate conversation with them

This listening to myself listen is what I would define, in a phrase, as mindfulness, and should be a habitual resource, a frame of its own, for me to access, keeping me from being driven by the knee-jerk obedience to the normal unconscious quick framing of what I perceive. This can be abetted by certain practices of reflection and meditation, some of which have been a good part of many of our traditional religious disciplines for millennia. As a college student picked up some awareness of this from the writings of Jean-Marie Déchanet and started to practice yoga daily. Later, I got further training in yoga from Satchidananda Saraswati and in meditation from a Buddhist monk, Sojun Bando, who conducted sessions in a winter term project at Oberlin college, where I was working in the 1970s. I feel like these have stood me in good stead since. 

In the Theravada tradition, this flow of inner discourse is often described as “defilements”. Be that as it may, for me it is just the normal messy flow of my listening in need of a touch of management… All too many religious traditions have been californicated, so one must be careful to extract the real gurus from the gooey roux of “true believer branding.” Mindfulness is how we do this as well.

Image: Swami Satchitananda leading yoga meditation – early 1970's

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