Mindfulness is a form of conscious awareness in which we are fully aware of experience as it is unfolding. This may not seem different to our usual understanding of awareness, so in order to better understand mindful-awareness we need to first examine common awareness. When we encounter an experience, which could be external, such as a sight, sound, or touch, or internal, such a thoughts, memory or emotion, the mind tends to react to the experience according to past conditioning. When we look at a tree, we don’t just see the tree as it is, but see a composite of the objective reality of the tree combined with our subjective reality, our internal representation of the tree. We see the products of our subjective reactions to the tree, and often this dominates our perception and awareness so much that we see very little of the truth of what is in front of us.
We can describe consciousness as a continuum between the totally objective truth at one end and the completely subjective reactivity at the other. Many of us reside more on the subjective side than the objective side and our experience is dominated by subjective habitual reactivity that has the effect of blinding us to reality.
Mindfulness is the conscious attempt to correct this imbalance and minimize subjective habitual reactivity and shift consciousness towards objective perception. Hence mindfulness is often described as the direct awareness or bare attention to present experience. It is non-reactive awareness that allows us to completely experience any object of consciousness. One of the favorite terms that I use to describe mindfulness to clients is presence. Mindfulness teaches us to be fully present for our experience as it is, rather than thinking about what we are experiencing, analyzing our experience, or reacting with attraction or aversion to what we are experiencing.
Mindfulness is a hallmark of the Buddha’s teachings and he considered mindfulness as the necessary foundation for inner transformation, as well as the purification of the actions of body, speech and mind as outlined in the Noble Eightfold Path. A person cannot perfect morality, compassion or right action, without first developing mindfulness, because mindfulness is the vehicle for seeing the reality and truth of things as they are, rather than distorted by our prejudices and beliefs. In relation to the mind, the Buddha made it very clear that if you want to transform inner emotional suffering, you must open your mind’s eye and look inside to see what’s there. Reactivity and thinking take you away from this primary and direct perception, because when you react, you experience the reaction, not the original object. When you think about your anxiety or trauma, you are experiencing thinking about the object, which is not the same as the original emotion. Reactivity takes you away from being present and this is actually a subtle form of suppression, and when the mind remains ignorant through suppression of any kind, it is prevented from changing.
The first requirement for transforming anxiety is to allow yourself to observe it fully, to be completely present and aware of the emotion. Without this effort to overcome unawareness, nothing can change. In fact, the unawareness is an essential factor that creates the anxiety in the first place. This is particularly the case for depression, where there is a complex superstructure of negative reactive thinking around the core emotion or trauma. Therefore, the first characteristic or dimension of the mental factor called mindfulness is the active watchful component, called RECOGNITION or VILGILANCE. We train ourselves to recognize each and every movement of reactivity in the mind so that we can stop its proliferation and return to being mindfully aware of the core emotions. how to overcome fear of change