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Chewing Gum and Walking at the Same Time

February 14, 2020


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There are those that say that “mindfulness” is largely a self-focused, self-indulgent practice in which the practitioner is either ignorant of or uncaring about anything outside of themselves , including the suffering of others and the parlous condition of our world.

Others say that mindfulness is rort, a delusion promoted by exploiters, who sell us these techniques in order to numb us to the deeper causes of our stress and worry  –  the negative structural, economic and global issues that have a direct bearing on our wellbeing.

And to some extent those critics may be right. Perhaps there are promoters of mindfulness practices that are owned by those very same exploiters who seek to convince us that, only by working harder and smarter, will we improve our lives despite overarching conditions that are out of our control. The critics’ point is that what the promoters are selling serves their interests and not ours.

But that is not the intention or the purpose of mindfulness in its truest form. Consider the following:

Mindfulness, put very simply, is a technique or set of techniques which assist us to focus on the present moment without constantly rehashing the past or imagining the future.

Through mindfulness, we can become less stressed and more able to focus on what is truly important both within us and outside of us.

Mindfulness in its truest context doesn’t disconnect us from others and the world, its problems and injustices. Mindfulness instead helps us to view everyone and everything with more compassion. And it empowers us to take action how and where necessary.

However, whether our increased present-mindedness actually makes us happier or not is really relevant when we consider the origins of mindfulness.

Buddhism and Mindfulness

The roots of mindfulness are found in Buddhism.  Buddhist meditation (or mindfulness) was designed not to make us more contented, but to radically change our sense of self and our perception of the world.  It was also meant to create a sense of liberation from all attachments so that we are more able to consider what is of most value in our lives and in our world.

Some Buddhist practitioners say that the modern therapeutic interpretation and application of mindfulness has resulted in increased egocentrism and the misapplications of it that I spoke of earlier. And there may be grounds for this opinion as I’ve explained.

My Own Experience

Through my own experience with mindfulness practices, this is what I have discovered.

Contrary to the criticisms of mindfulness, I can say that, through these practices, I am more connected to both that which is within me and around me.

I feel a greater sensitivity and compassion for others and the natural world that I live in.

When I am really here in body, mind and spirit, when I am really present, I am empowered to be and to do what serves the highest good. And, because I am more focused, I am able to see the practical actions I can take to help.

To the degree that I am able to let go of attachments — materialism, greed and possessions – I experience a deeper sense of the bounty within and outside me. I am more appreciative of the gifts that life has provided me.

When I am truly present, I am not devoid of emotion. Quite the opposite. I am even more aroused by injustice. I am even more aware of others’ grief and loss and even more determined to do my part to help.

Mindfulness isn’t a steady state condition for me. But it is a place I can always return to in order to rediscover that precious inner and outer connection.

In short, I have found that  I don’t have to choose between mindful reflection and outward action. I have found that they actually go together very, very well.

Put another way,  I can chew gum and walk at the same time. And maybe even better than before.