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Mindful : February 2015
8 mindful February 2015 Mindfulness is a big deal these days. Now that we’re hearing the word so often in so many contexts, some readers are telling us that it can confuse them. The mean- ing fuzzes out, and they have a hard time talking to others about it. It’s like breakfast, which covers ever ything from a granola bar to a Grand Slam at Denny’s. So it may be wor th taking some time to consider what mindfulness conjures up in people’s minds when they hear it. One of the first things to clarify is that the word is doing double duty. For one, it refers to an innate quality or way of being we all have access to that allows us to be fully present, attending to the moment, deeply engaged and yet at peace. Mind- fulness also refers to techniques that train our minds to be that way more often. Understanding the difference between the practice and the innate quality is vital. If we don’t, it becomes far too easy to think mindfulness is something pos- sessed by exper ts and conferred by them on others. Once you’ve sor ted out the confusion between the way of being and the practices to cultivate it, you’re left with the question of how adequate a job this single word can do to describe a quality so elusive, and so wonder ful, that it’s like water. How many ways can you describe what water is, and does, and the forms it can take? To delve into this question, we queried a dozen or so people who teach mindfulness (the practice, not the innate quality) to get their thoughts about the effectiveness of the word. There was a consensus that mindful- ness as an umbrella term for a range of qualities is power ful, but also limited in cer tain ways. For one thing, Jon Kabat- Zinn and others say, mindfulness also needs to be heartfulness. There’s feeling and caring there, not just cool, distant perception. Being mindful can also mean being aware of causes and effects and responsibilities—up to and including for our whole planet—but there is no mindful ideology that ever yone who meditates signs on to. Others commented that mindfulness can sound like something that takes a lot of work, like mental ditch digging, or that involves being hyper vigilant—never mis- placing your keys or making a wrong turn. In fact, there’s an ease that comes about as one obsesses less about maintaining stor ylines that solidly define us in ever y situation. Janice Marturano, of the Institute for Mindful Leadership, emphasized that there’s a strong element of aspiration to mindfulness. It’s not something you get once and then have forever. In a similar vein, Michael Chender, who also does leadership training, talked about relaxing into ambiguity or uncer tainty, not needing to nail things down in every moment. Still others were looking for some juice or joy. Mindfulness has a quality of plea- sure about it, and connectedness, to other people and your surroundings. It makes things taste better. When you hear a word like chocolate, juices star t to flow. The heav y three-syllableness of mindfulness doesn’t capture the pleasure factor. Some suggested that space or flow or presence are qualities that make sense to talk about in the right context. Tara Healey, of Har vard Pilgrim Health- care, among others, concluded by saying that uncovering mindfulness is a journey. And all the limited ways we think about it come about because we’re asking the word to carr y a wide range of meanings. No sin- gle definition can cover the whole territor y. It’s a territor y we discover in moments that go beyond words. ● The Many Meanings of Mindfulness Barry Boyce, Editor-in-Chief barr