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  • On page 1 of Mindfulness for Beginners (which does seem like a very good place to start!) Jon Kabat-Zinn defines “mindfulness” as follows.  To make its components clear I’ve laid it out poetry-style:

    Mindfulness is awareness,
    by paying attention
    in a sustained
    and particular way:
    on purpose,
    in the present moment,
    and non-judgmentally.

    Here is my commentary:

    Mindfulness is awareness A useful alternative to the important word “awareness” is “experiential processing.” A fine recent integrative review of current mindfulness research distinguishes between conceptual processing and experiential processing. Conceptual processing is what we do at work every day (and most of the rest of the time): we think. We are absorbed in thought and we identify with our thoughts. By contrast, experiential processing is attention to the content of our thoughts but also the larger experience that surrounds our thoughts: emotions, body states, external stimuli. Our capacity to be aware of experience beyond thought is natural, and we do it all the time – for brief periods. The problem is that awareness is too fragile on its own to survive for long: it is quickly swallowed up by our habit of getting lost in our thoughts (judgments, worries, dreams…). So the next part of the definition is crucial:

    cultivated  What enables us to stay aware of our full experience? Intention, effort, patience, and time. Cultivating mindfulness is an activity like gardening or farming. The word “practice” is also useful here, with its resonances of the gym, the sports field and the rehearsal studio. In essence, this means breaking the habit of being lost in thought, and building a new habit of being aware of our whole experience.

    by paying attention Paying attention…to what? We’re used to having an object of our attention: a problem to be solved, a show to be watched, a goal to be accomplished. But it’s this very act of just…paying attention, with open curiosity and without a specific object, that gives mindfulness its unique quality. Without an object, it’s much easier for us to notice whatever is going on.

    in a sustained Back to the notions of cultivation and practice. “Sustained” doesn’t mean “through hours of uninterrupted meditation.” “Habitual” is another way to put it.

    and particular way What follows are the particulars:

    • on purpose, Mindfulness grows out of intention. Wanting to be aware leads to cultivating a sustained practice; and a sustained practice makes consistent awareness of experience (and not just thoughts) possible.
    • in the present moment, Another way of saying “not lost in thought.” We could perhaps define mindfulness simply as “not being lost in the past or lost in the future”.
    • and non-judgmentally. Yet another way of saying “not lost in thought.” We could also define mindfulness as “curiosity about what is so”.

    We’ll dive into all of this and much more at my Mindful Technology Delivery class, September 27, 2017 from 4-6pm in Pioneer Square. Learn more and register here.