“Mindfulness trains you to pay attention to the present moment.” Bullshit.
“Mindfulness is a set of skills that will enhance your life.” Bullshit.
“Through mindfulness, you experience life as it is.” Double bullshit.
Oops, sorry to smash the doctrine in the first line, and pardon my French, but it’s time to come clean on the truth about mindfulness: it’s not anything, it’s not a skill and it’s not something you can learn. Sorry. Most teachings start with the “train yourself” idea, and from there, you’re pointing in the wrong direction, straight into the woods, so the faster you run the more shit you will run into. Sorry for the French again, but let me give you some context.
Who is this you?
The whole thing goes pear shaped when the word “you” comes into play, after all, who is this you? Who is being trained? The “you” we try to train is that slippery fish I call “The Thinking Mind”, the identity we construct from the patterns of thought that flash through our consciousness every minute of the day. And who is doing the training? The same thinking mind, the created, false identity. So now we have the thinking mind training the thinking mind to stop thinking so much, to pay attention to what is outside of thought. Now we have a real problem. The thinking mind can’t pay attention to Now, it can only think about it, analyse it and make a story about it afterwards, so what do we end up with? More thinking, (about mindfulness, but thinking nonetheless), more stress and more goals (things to achieve in the imagined future). The thinking mind now has everything it loves, an identity (as a meditator), goals, and problems (“I don’t have enough time to practice, my practice isn’t where it should be etc. etc. blah blah blah!”) Don’t get me wrong, this practice will still have some benefits and give glimpses of peace, but the real revolution happens when you realise something amazing…
There’s no-one to train.
Underneath all the stuff that arises and fades each moment (thoughts, sights, sounds, sensations), there is something quiet, something that watches all that is arising. We could call that something awareness, but I prefer to call it “You”, because that feels more accurate to me. When you get down to it, the “you” we talked about, the thinking mind, isn’t who you are, it’s just a part of what’s arising now.
Take a minute to notice all the information you’re taking in right now, the sights and sounds around you, the thoughts coming and going, and ask yourself this: “Who is watching all this? Who is taking it in?” Now, see if you can notice yourself, the one who is watching, the awareness underneath all the stuff that’s happening. Notice that you are alive, aware and able to direct your attention to different “things” like thoughts, sounds, sights and physical sensations. For ‘You’ to be able to notice all of these things, you must be separate from them in some way, you must be a watcher, like the audience in the cinema. That quiet awareness is always there, sitting in the background, but it’s hard to put your finger on, because, well, because it’s you. It’s like living in a world without reflections and trying to figure out what you look like. You can feel that you’re there, alive, existing, but you can’t look at yourself directly. If this sounds like babble, don’t worry, you’ll notice it eventually, like one of those magic eye puzzles, if you can keep looking, or in this case, keep practising. Here’s another way to look:
Take a moment to ask yourself this question: “Am I alive?” Hopefully, the answer will be yes, but rather than answering from the mind, see if you can feel the answer, as the warmth in your body, the beating of your heart, and the awareness that allows you to know that you’re alive. Without this awareness, you wouldn’t be able to ask the question in the first place.
So it turns out that mindfulness is not a way to train yourself, how could you train pure awareness to be aware? Try teaching a bird to fly and let me know how far you get (“Tilt your wings up! Now flap! I said flap dammit!”) All we need to do is untangle that awareness from the thoughts that bind. That awareness doesn’t need training, it just needs to realise that I am that awareness, not the endless thinking. You need to realise that.
So, to be truly happy, stop training yourself and be yourself instead. But how? You can start with this little podcast I recorded to explore this very process: After that? Just keep practising being You. It’s quite fun actually, so enjoy Yourself.