We may have heard a lot about mindfulness. Mindfulness is the buzz word that has shot up in the Google trends as a search word exponentially in the last decade. But it has come to lose connection with its initial intention and meaning. It is sort of a catch-all now for what we mean when we think of meditation. But even the word meditation is an English word that didn’t actually directly translate to anything in the Asian languages, which is where Buddhism arose.
So just looking at the words, for example, one word in the Tibetan tradition for meditation, and there are many, is gom, to become familiar with. This is actually a much more accurate description of what we’re doing when we sit with our body and mind together, synchronized, coming back to the present moment, and noticing all the thought patterns that come and go, and returning to the present experience. So that kind of familiarization with the experience of being present, that is really more accurate.
If we look at mindfulness, the word in Tibetan would be trenpa which is recollecting the object of focus. In meditation we often have an object of focus. The mind is connecting with something while we’re alive. When we have an intentional object like the breath, we bring our attention back to the feeling of the body breathing from our thoughts and story lines, again and again, like lifting weights. We’re strengthening the mind. We’re gaining stability. The initial stage is placing the mind on the object of meditation, returning and repeating that placement onto the object when we get distracted is the second stage, and the third stage is staying with the object for some duration, even if there are fluctuations of thought, we don’t get seduced away from our object for a little while, a couple of minutes. As we’re building towards that, we’re using mindfulness and we’re strengthening that ability and it really is almost like a muscle. It’s kind of the brawn.
The brains in this operation would be awareness. Awareness, in Tibet they might call it many different things, shesshin or presently knowing, knowing what is. Mindfulness brings the mind back to the object, recollects where the focus is, and focuses. Awareness is what knows what is happening or what it is that we’re focusing on, but as that awareness grows it grows from shesshin which is presently knowing, just like you could hear a bird call. Then there is a sense of wondering about the bird, knowing it is a bird, expanding that to what is called sherab or prajna in Sanskrit, best knowing, knowing what is most important. This brilliant intelligence that starts to know what is the mind, what is the one meditating? Then even further, yeshe, which is primordial knowing, returning to our buddha nature, fully in the wisdom and compassion of the Buddhas.
So in this journey on the path it is really about awareness understanding itself or, you could say, our aliveness knowing what we are. We are self aware, but what is self aware? What are we?
So as we practice awareness we begin to develop what is called insight. Sometimes in Sanskrit this is called shamatha and vipashyana. In Tibetan, shyine and lhaktong. Calm abiding and clear seeing, or insight.
So these correlate to mindfulness and awareness. Our ability to focus our mind brings us to our body and the present moment and our ability to wonder what is it that is present and what is it to be alive, this is the unfolding intelligence of awareness. Initially awareness is just bare awareness of what is appearing in the mind. Over time, naturally there is a curiosity and intelligence that starts to percolate, as well as specific practices that can help one have a deeper familiarity with one’s mind and nature.
This is part of a whole series! Check it out…
Mindfulness and Awareness
Come Back To Your Senses Introduction
Come Back To Your Senses – Sight
Come Back To Your Senses – Sound
Come Back To Your Senses – Smell
Come Back To Your Senses – Taste
Come Back To Your Senses – Touch
Come Back To Your Senses – The Sky of the Senses
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