Going all the way back to his leadership in opposition to the Vietnam War almost 50 years ago, Thich Nhat Hanh has used Mindfulness as a doorway to engagement in making a better life and a better world, recognizing that Mindfulness is essential, but it is not enough.
Mindfulness is the Buddhist term for what the Yogi’s call being conscious of your consciousness and Gurdjieff referred to as remembering your Self. Sometimes it’s just thought of as being conscious.
We tend to think that we become conscious when we wake up in the morning and become unconscious when we drop off to sleep at night. However, according to the Mindfulness perspective, when we wake up we become awake but we may not be fully conscious. Without some careful practice, we tend to move through our days governed by habit and feelings, guiding ourselves by an internal voice in our minds whereby we talk to ourselves and tell ourselves what we should and should not do.
Full consciousness takes some practice. But, with practice, it becomes possible to turn off the inner voice (quieting that portion of the brain) and shift awareness to other aspects of our existence. One of the most basic Mindfulness practices is just to become aware of one’s breath (breathe in, pause, breathe out, pause, breathe in, pause, breathe out pause). Initially, for most people, it isn’t possible to pay attention to two streams of experience at the same time, so being aware of our breath tends to shut off our inner voice and allow us to experience reality more directly.
It’s important to understand that being aware of our breath is not really Mindfulness yet. It’s just being aware of something else beside our inner voice. This is also true of walking meditation with the inner voice turned off or any other Mindfulness practice. Full Mindfulness or consciousness of our consciousness comes when we take the next step and become aware of a constant stream of awareness that is the backdrop for all of our experiences and all of our actions and, through that constant awareness of our awareness, we become able to locate and focus our awareness where ever we choose.
Watching babies work and work, over months, at getting control of their physical experiences and movements can be a pretty good analogy for what we need to do in working to get control of our different forms of mental experiences and actions.
Mindfulness as a Doorway
Mindfulness, then, is a doorway to the full range of our outer experiences and actions and the full range of our inner experiences and actions.
Great athletes or dancers often have this kind of conscious awareness and control of their kinesthetic awareness and expression. Great actors often have this kind of conscious awareness and control of their emotional awareness and expression. Einstein has been said to have had this kind of conscious awareness and control of his visualizing ability.
In the Yogic, Rosicrucian, and Taoist traditions, mindfulness is also the doorway to vision meditation through which it is possible to shift awareness and experience many different inner dimensions.
Mindfulness as a Foundation for the Self
Mindfulness can also be a foundation for psychological health.
In the Jungian, Gestalt, and Psychosynthesis approaches to psychotherapy, psychological health can emerge as we move beyond the reality of the Ego (the inner voice) surrounded by and largely governed by different substantially unconscious emotional patterns that often take the form of self fragments that fight with each other to see who will predominate and take the stage in any given situation in our lives.
Psychological health comes about when we evolve a coherent Self that maintains a conscious perspective on each of our self fragments and chooses when any one of them will take the stage and govern our behavior. Psychological health is like acquiring a writer/director (a Self) to guide our personal dramas.
Without being aware of our awareness, without Mindfulness, and without being able to turn off the inner voice and shift awareness and become aware of the different physical and emotional dimensions of our existence , it is extremely difficult to evolve a coherent Self. In fact, Mindfulness is really the foundation for a coherent Self. However, Mindfulness is not enough. We have to build on that foundation of Mindfulness and actually explore our different self fragments and turn them into willing, effective, collaborative characters in our personal dramas, under the direction of a coherent Self.
Mindfulness in Action
With a coherent Self, built on the foundation of Mindfulness, it becomes much more possible to take effective action in the world. However, to succeed with our actions, it’s pretty essential to embrace a guiding philosophy and a deep knowledge of the craft we are seeking to practice, whether that’s in business, technology, politics, education, or the arts.
As a guiding philosophy, Planetary Philosophy offers its three principles. We inhabit One Planet. We are One People. We have One Purpose – bringing about the great transformation whereby people can come to live in peace with themselves, each other, and the Earth.
And underlying these three principles there is a fourth. We share One Consciousness. We have the opportunity to become strong as individual, mindful nodes in that field of consciousness within which all the minds of all people alive are other nodes. Conscious participation in that field of consciousness can give us the perspective and the psychic strength to contribute powerfully to the creation of that better life and that better world that we need if we are going to survive.