Cultivating Familiarity

Excerpt from "Mindfulness Has Huge Health Potential — but McMindfulness is No Panacea," by Jon Kabat-ZinnThe Guardian, Oct. 20, 2015:

Mindfulness is often misunderstood — so let us be clear about what we are encouraging.

In essence, mindfulness — being about attention, awareness, relationality, and caring — is a universal human capacity akin to our capacity for language acquisition. It is a way of being in wise and purposeful relationship with one’s experience, both inwardly and outwardly, with oneself and with others. Thus there is an intrinsic social dimension to its cultivation as well.

It usually involves cultivating familiarity and intimacy with aspects of everyday experience that we often take for granted.

These include our experience of the present moment, our own bodies, our thoughts and emotions, and above all, our tacit and constraining assumptions and our highly conditioned habits of mind and behaviour, both as individuals and in society at large.

While the most systematic and comprehensive articulation of mindfulness stems from the Buddhist tradition, mindfulness is not a catechism, an ideology, a belief system, a technique or set of techniques, a religion, or a philosophy. It is best described as “a way of being”. There are many different ways to cultivate it wisely and effectively through practice. Basically when we are talking about mindfulness, we are talking about awareness — pure awareness. It is an innate human capacity that is different from thinking but wholly complementary to it.

It is also “bigger” than thinking, because any thought can be held in awareness, and thus looked at, known, and understood. Awareness in its purest form thus has the potential to add value and new degrees of freedom to living life fully and wisely and thus, to making wiser and healthier, more compassionate and altruistic choices.

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