Breaking down mindfulness: Defining the indefinable

I started this blog not only to write about my own mindfulness and meditation practice, but also to spread awareness about what mindfulness is, through knowledge gained from my PhD research, the scientific literature, my own practice, and a wide reading of meditation, mindfulness and Buddhist books. Today, I would like to dedicate this post to mindfulness. Pure mindfulness. A brief, personal account of what mindfulness is.

There are many definitions of mindfulness in the scientific literature, as well as the general community, and I have mentioned a few in previous blog posts. Today’s blog, however, is not concerned with definitions. For all intents and purposes, mindfulness is indefinable. That is, many of the definitions that are currently used in mindfulness literature are appropriate, but no one definition can truly encompass everything that mindfulness is. So to discuss what mindfulness is, I have chosen to break it down into several (themselves indefinable) components.


The first step of being mindful is to be present. Present in every moment fully and completely. If you find your mind diving into your past or sprinting into your future, bring it back gently. Remind yourself that the present moment is the only moment in which you can live. Remembering is an important part of presence.


When you are present in each and every moment, let yourself become aware of the things and sensations around you. When you are doing the dishes, notice the dishes, the water and the scent of the soap. When you are walking, notice your surroundings, the air you breathe and the sounds you hear. When you are “doing nothing”, notice your breath as you inhale and exhale. Observation is an important part of awareness.


When you become aware of your surroundings or of your internal thoughts and feelings, accept what you are seeing and feeling. Accept your current situation. Accept that your mind has wandered and gently bring it back to the present moment. It is important to accept what is in a non-judgemental and non-reactive way.


Once you are able to remain in the present moment with awareness and acceptance, set your intentions. Be present on purpose. Be aware on purpose. Accept your situation on purpose. Do everything on purpose and with the right attitude: non-judgementally, non-reactively, and with kindness, compassion, and gratitude. Remember why you started practicing mindfulness in the first place.


Whatever your purpose or intention is with regards to your practice, make sure it stems out of love and kindness. Be kind to your body and to your mind. Be kind to yourself throughout your practice even when your mind wanders. It is equally important to be kind to others by showing compassion.


Show compassion to yourself and to those around you, by engaging in all the aspects of mindfulness listed above. Ease your own suffering by easing the suffering of others. Importantly, if all you take from your mindfulness practice is kindness and compassion for yourself and for others, you have probably achieved everything you needed to achieve.


Last, but by no means least, be grateful. Grateful to yourself, to your practice, and to your teachers. Be grateful for the present moment. Be grateful for awareness, acceptance, intention, kindness, and compassion. And express that gratitude through communication.

But remember that…

…mindfulness cannot simply be broken down into its components, anymore than a desert can be broken down into individual grains of sand. Theoretically, a desert is simply the sum of millions and millions of grains of sand. But in reality, the individual parts cannot account for the power or even the existence of the desert. Similarly, mindfulness is more than the sum of its parts. Mindfulness itself is a component of something larger. Everything is everything else. Taken out of context and broken down, mindfulness loses its magic, which is actually no magic at all. After all,

“It is just you yourself, nothing special.”

(Shunryu Suzuki in “Zen Mind, Beginner mind”, p. 33)


This is a blog post that I wrote for Mindful Bohemian – a wonderful website with products inspired by a mindful and bohemian lifestyle. Please visit their blog and feel free to browse their fantastic collections! 🙂
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