photo credit: Tanja Mamas

Mindfulness is Not About Chasing the Eternal Present

Mindfulness is a word frequently getting thrown around these days, in the same way that low-carb diets were all the rage in the early 2000s. Google “mindfulness” and you’ll get over 27 million results, ranging from tips on how to approach each day more mindfully to stories of mindfulness techniques flooding the startups of Silicon Valley. Mindfulness is no longer just about cultivating inner peace and tranquility — it’s also about getting ahead in business. There are many different interpretations of mindfulness, so it’s helpful to first start with a definition. Psychology Today defines mindfulness this way:

Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.

To help clarify, the notion of mindfulness has different meanings on different levels of existence. At the deepest level, the underlying basis of everything, including you, is pure unbounded Consciousness. As your awareness evolves, you become increasingly awake to this deeper Consciousness. When fully awakened to it, it is experienced as a backdrop to everything in existence. You could say it is similar to how a TV screen is the backdrop to all images, stories, and melodramas projected onto it. Mindfulness exists at this deepest level in a place beyond space and time — eternally present. The true state of mindfulness then is a physiological state, the culmination of evolution. No wonder everyone is trying to achieve it!

A state of true mindfulness is sometimes referred to as the witness. In the state of witnessing, you are awake to the level where nothing is really happening. This is what is referred to as maya in the Vedic tradition, the idea that reality is all about change, things, relativity, and action. In the state of pure mindfulness, the backdrop, the underlying reality, transcends relativity, duality, action, etc. When first experienced, it is rather a strange experience. It is as if when you are walking, you are not really walking. The body is walking, and the you, your being, your deepest awareness, is just witnessing the body walking. However it isn’t a form of dissociation, nor does it work to try to witness. Witnessing is the natural by-product of a deep state of wakefulness.

This state of true mindfulness, sometimes called enlightenment, is cultivated over time, primarily through proper meditation. Proper meditation, for example Surya Ram Meditation, has nothing to do with pretending or trying to be in the eternal present. Sadly though, many meditation techniques do exactly that.

Paying attention to the moment is common sense —
not a spiritual destination.

The term “mindfulness” is often used as a practice of attempting to keep your awareness on the present, trying to be completely mindful of what is going on in the moment — in the room, in the conversation you may be having, in the activity you may be doing, or what have you. In actuality, that is neither constructive nor healthy.

On the superficial level of life, the past, present, and future exist. Even when the awareness and physiology are functioning properly, there are times when the mind’s attention is absorbed in thinking about the future or the past, having little to do with what is going on in the present moment. In the state of true mindfulness, there is integration between the depth and the surface. Attention on the past, future, and present are all quite healthy and natural. Trying to force the mind to stay in the present moment does little more than cultivate a state of neurosis, compromising the evolutionary process. This is where mindfulness gets misunderstood in this day and age.

The bottom line here is that spiritual growth is a normal and natural process. It encompasses a much longer span of time than the present moment. Personal evolution is a subtle process, a normalizing process, and a sublime process. Looking for radical differences on the surface of life in an attempt to believe that you are attaining spiritual progress is largely misguided. Attempting to force mindfulness to exist within a single present moment is like taking the petals of a rosebud and peeling them back one at a time in an attempt to make a blossom. It is the natural unfolding of the bud that births the beautiful flower.

To facilitate your personal development and spiritual growth, use techniques that support your natural blossoming.