But what is mindfulness? You can think of it as non-interfering awareness.
You’re probably already familiar with non-interfering awareness. Imagine you’re listening to music. Or you’re completely, receptively listening to another human being – say, a colleague or a deponent. Or a client. Non-interfering awareness is a quality of mind that allows you to listen, or to be with someone, or to be in a situation, and to be fully present and aware. You are simply listening, or simply present. The mind is not wandering.
Solitary mindfulness practice – when you take a few minutes each day to sit or walk or practice yoga or another meditative practice in silence – helps cultivate the ability to listen, and to be present, with this kind of complete receptivity.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of MBSR, calls silence “a kind of sanity,” and I agree. When you take a few minutes each day to practice mindfulness, or non-interfering awareness, you are building a calmer, more stable mind. And as you continue to practice, you gain greater access to your senses, feelings, thoughts and values. Being in touch with yourself – that’s the first byproduct of mindfulness practice.
And, you can also start to practice non-interfering awareness in your portable mindfulness practice – those times during the day when you literally port your mindfulness practice into your daily life. It might be best to start with people who are easy to hear and be with – sometimes these are people with whom we’re the most intimate, and sometimes they’re the more distant people like the clerk at the market the barista you see every day, and to whom you can attend with non-interfering awareness when she serves you your drink.
You can also bring the practice on non-interfering awareness home, listening with great care to those you love.
And you can bring the practice to work. You can listen with non-interfering awareness to your assistant, colleagues, and eventually to even the really difficult people, whose emotions can sometimes feel oppressive.
Mother Teresa was once asked what she said to God when she prayed. “I don’t say anything,” she replied. “I just listen.” Then the interviewer asked what God said to her. “He doesn’t say anything,” said Mother Teresa. “He just listens. And if you don’t understand, I can’t explain it to you.”
If you give yourself a few minutes of solitary practice each day, I suspect you’ll understand.