Is mindfulness ‘staying aware’?



Recently a friend asked me what is mindfulness.  I don’t think my answer was all that clear or memorable.  Here is an attempt to do better – although the only way to know it really is to do it – Smile, Breath, Go slowly/consciously. – are all the practices you need to develop mindfulness.

From the notes below I’ve made a working definition for myself;

In interiority i.e. the heart-mind (consciousness) mindfulness is;

staying aware

or more fully

maintaining non-judgemental, witnessing, awareness – as thoughts, sensations & feelings come into consciousness

NB Conscious breathing enables us to return to the now, in which to experience mindfulness.

Q. What do you say if an unwelcome thought arises?
A.“Welcome, good-morning, thank-you, goodbye!”


Mindfulness from WikiPedia refers to a psychological quality that involves;

bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis

or involves

paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally

or involves

a kind of nonelaborative, nonjudgmental, present-centered awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is.

Bishop, Lau, and colleagues (2007) offered a two component model of mindfulness:

The first component [of mindfulness] involves the self-regulation of attention so that it is maintained on immediate experience, thereby allowing for increased recognition of mental events in the present moment.

The second component involves adopting a particular orientation toward one’s experiences in the present moment, an orientation that is characterized by curiosity, openness, and acceptance

In this two-component model, self-regulated attention (the first component) involves consciousawareness of one’s current thoughts, feelings, and surroundings, which can result …. in metacognitive skills for controlling concentration. Orientation to experience (the second component) involves accepting one’s mindstream, maintaining open and curious attitudes, and thinking in alternative categories (developing upon Ellen Langer‘s research on decision-making).

Training in mindfulness and mindfulness-based practices, oftentimes as part of a quiet meditation session, results…. in the development of a Beginner’s mind, or, looking at experiences as if for the first time.


The exquisitely clear and simple Thich Nhat Hanh  teaching ; –

“I breathe in, and I know I am breathing in – that’s the practice of mindful breathing.” – in ‘Peace is Every Step’


Thich Nhat Hanh in answer to the question, “Why is mindfulness the key to happiness?” said;

Mindfulness brings concentration.

Concentration brings insight.

Insight liberates you from your ignorance, your anger, your craving.

When you are free from your afflictions, happiness becomes possible.

How can you be happy when you are overloaded with anger, ignorance, and craving? That is why the insight that can liberate you from these afflictions is the key to happiness. There are many conditions of happiness that are present, but people don’t recognize them because they are not mindful.

When body and mind are together, you are fully present. You are fully alive and you can touch the wonders of life that are available in the here and the now. So you practice not only with your mind but with your body. Body and mind should be experienced as one thing, not two. On that ground, you see that everything you are looking for is already there. Whether it is enlightenment, nirvana, liberation, Buddha, dharma, sangha, or happiness, it is right there. In fact, that is the only place, the only moment, where you can find these things.


If you are remembering your second-grade teacher, that is memory.
When you then become aware that you are remembering your second-grade teacher that is mindfulness.
If you then conceptualize the process and say to yourself, “Oh, I am remembering”, that is thinking. – Ven. Henepola Gunaratana


Mindfulness …. is the opposite of grasping, or attachment, or identification. – Jack Kornfield


Also from Wikipedia;

Ten forms of mindfulness

In the Āgamas of early Buddhism, there are ten forms of mindfulness. According to the Ekottara Āgama, these ten are:[17]

  1. Mindfulness of the Buddha
  2. Mindfulness of the Dharma
  3. Mindfulness of the Saṃgha
  4. Mindfulness of giving
  5. Mindfulness of the heavens
  6. Mindfulness of stopping and resting
  7. Mindfulness of discipline
  8. Mindfulness of breathing
  9. Mindfulness of the body
  10. Mindfulness of death

According to Nan Huaijin, the Ekottara Āgama emphasizes mindfulness of breathing more than any of the other methods, and teaches the most specifically on teaching this one form of mindfulness.[18]

Continuous mindfulness practice

In addition to various forms of meditation based around specific sessions, there are mindfulness training exercises that develop awareness throughout the day using designated environmental cues. The aim is to make mindfulness essentially continuous. Examples of such cues are the hourly chimes of clocks, red lights at traffic junctions and crossing the threshold of doors. The mindfulness itself can take the form of nothing more than taking three successive breaths while remembering they are a conscious experience of body activity within mind.[19] This approach is particularly helpful when it is difficult to establish a regular meditation practice.

There is also a very interesting Zen criticism of the idea of mindfulness;  

Zen criticism

Some Zen teachers emphasize the potential dangers of misunderstanding “mindfulness”.

Gudo Wafu Nishijima criticizes the use of the term of mindfulness and idealistic interpretations of the practice from the Zen standpoint:

However recently many so-called Buddhist teachers insist the importance of ‘mindfulness.’ But such a kind of attitudes might be insistence that Buddhism might be a kind of idealistic philosophy. Therefore actually speaking I am much afraid that Buddhism is misunderstood as if it was a kind of idealistic philosophy. However we should never forget that Buddhism is not an idealistic philosophy, and so if someone in Buddhism reveres mindfulness, we should clearly recognize that he or she can never be a Buddhist at all.[20]

Muho Noelke, the abbot of Antaiji, explains the pitfalls of consciously seeking mindfulness.

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