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Scholarship

Bodhi College — What is Mindfulness?

This is one of a series of transcripts of contemporary talks which have particularly resonated with me.

Bodhi College, in conjunction with Tricycle Online Courses, is offering a course entitled “Mindfulness: Its Origins, Purpose, and Transformational Power”. Course instructors are Akincano Weber, Christina Feldman, Stephen Batchelor, and John Peacock.

The preview material includes a video entitled “What is Mindfulness?”. It is available for free; click “Free Preview”, enter your email address. You’ll then be able to access the Introduction module. The third item down is the video “What is Mindfulness?”.

My learning style leans more twoard written, rather than spoken, language; for those who may be the same I offer the video transcription below:

Introduction — What is Mindfulness?

Akincano Weber: Mindfulness in a nutshell, a totally un-scholarly account… it’s a type of relationship. Mindfulness… an attuned, attentional relationship, with something, with someone, with some inner or outer process or event. Mindfulness training? Two directions. One direction: getting temporal continuity going, being able to stabilize attentional focus on an object, on an event, on a process… longer than we would habitually do. [That is the] first direction of training. Second direction of training, creating attentional stability. So, attention now in the form of awareness, becoming stable enough that different objects of mind can arise and cease without the attentional field collapsing onto the object.

Christina Feldman: The definition I would offer is one I have personally coined; it’s not a scholarly definition. [It is] also an ever changing landscape, the more that I understand about mindfulness. At the moment I would refer to mindfulness as the willingness and the capacity to be equally near all events and experiences, both inwardly and outwardly. With discernment, with kindness, and with insight. And for me, all of those words are important in the mindfulness landscape. The willingness to be equally near all experience is not something we usually engage in. We have very preferential attention, usually rooted in what makes us feel good or what might make us feel bad. Capacity… mindfulness is a capacity. It is something we train. It is something we develop. It is not something that comes so easily to a mind that tends to live in distractedness. Discernment is part of the mindfulness landscape. Really knowing for ourselves what leads to distress and what leads to the end of distress. Kindness is crucial. As a Akincano mentioned. Mindfulness is a kind of intimacy. It’s a relational quality. And it is learning to step out of our familiar modes: judgment, interpretation, anxiety, and to step into a mode of befriending. Insight is also, in my mind, part of the mindfulness landscape. We are really beginning to understand experience, not just observe it or watch it. But to understand how our world of experience is constructed moment to moment.

Stephen Batchelor: Mindfulness to me is coming to rest in a non-reactive mind. And this is both in terms of our own immediate experience, our own embodiment, it is a much closer contact with our sensorium… with what we see and hear and smell and taste and touch. It’s a much closer openness to what is bubbling up in our minds. But at the same time, it is also holding in mind what we value. Holding in mind our goals, what we consider to be our ethical vision… not necessarily consciously, but bearing in mind the framework within which we’re enabled to live more flourishing lives. Both personally, socially, politically if you wish. But if we translate that into mindfulness as it’s occurring for me in this moment, then I’m mindful of speaking to you. I’m mindful that there’s a camera in front of me. I’m mindful of sitting with my friends and colleagues. And I’m mindful of trying to say something that speaks, not only to the topic that we’re discussing, but also speaks to your needs. And how these ideas might help you, also, to go more deeply into your practice.

John Peacock: The first thing I want to say is, I think it’s extremely difficult to get an exact definition of what mindfulness is and I think this is something we are going to explore throughout the course. I’d like, in a sense, to hold it a little more open at this stage, about what actually mindfulness is. Without trying to pin it down too much. I think one of the first things we see, is the word “mindfulness” is used ubiquitously in our cultures. It’s used all over the place, it’s used about many many different things. The word itself seems to cover up more than it reveals. Simply because we have this umbrella term on which things are, in a sense, coming in under that particular umbrella term itself. However, I think, some of the things that have been said so far are very crucial in anything that we move towards in trying to define what mindfulness is. For example, non-reactivity that Stephen picked up on. I think this is a highly important part. We only become non-reactive in a part of mindfulness which is supremely important, which is beginning to understand the landscapes of our mind. Beginning to plot what is there in terms of, for example, the mental states and the mood-edness that we find ourselves within. When we begin to see some of that, then we can develop such things as ethical concerns… widening it out into that relational framework. When we see some of the unwholesome aspects of our mind we can learn, for example, to re-direct the energy that is often placed into that into these more wholesome, say, ethical concerns, just to use one example of this. So understanding the nature of our minds is an important part of mindfulness. But of course, in any definition that we offer, it does not stand alone. Because mindfulness does not operate alone. It operates in conjunction with other extremely important mental factors. I think, if I was offering any criticism at this stage, in terms of definitions, we are often viewing mindfulness isolated from all other forms of mental functioning. So any definition I would like to offer, which is why it’s difficult to do it at this stage in the particular course that we’re offering, is because we’re actually throwing the net a lot wider to encompass so many other mental operations.

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