If you’ve been paying attention lately — if you’ve been practicing mindfulness — then you’ve noticed a sudden increase in media attention about something called mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness is becoming one of those big buzzwords. Celebrities — from Oprah, to Steve Mcqueen, to LinkIn’s Jeff Weiner — are talking about it. Time Magazine recently released a cover story titled “The Mindful Revolution.” Huffington Post is calling 2014 the “year of living mindfully”.
Mindfulness is the latest craze sweeping across America. (I love my country. Where else in the world could something like mindfulness become a nationwide craze?)
I wholeheartedly support this craze. The world certainly needs more mindfulness.
But there are a few things that you should know about mindfulness.
Mindfulness Meditation is Not New
“Sifu, when are you going to teach us some of this new mindfulness meditation stuff?” a student asked me. This was a few weeks into 2014, shortly after Time Magazine released its special issue on mindfulness.
I think I actually chuckled out loud in response.
Let me explain why it was funny to me.
Just because the media is becoming more mindful of a particular term doesn’t mean that it’s new. Mindfulness is an ancient concept that traces back to the Buddha, who lived roughly 2500 years ago.
But Sifu Anthony, does this mean that when people talk about mindfulness, they are talking about Buddhism?
No. Not necessarily.
These days, the word mindfulness is most often associated with something called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (or MBSR for short). This wonderful form of meditation is sometimes called “Buddhist meditation without the Buddhism”. It was developed in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a scientist who studied at MIT.
MBSR has become a movement of sorts, and it has made its way into hospitals, universities, and living rooms all across America. There have even been a few scientific studies done on MBSR, which is where some of the recent buzz comes from.
But MBSR does not own the term “mindfulness” any more than Protestants own the term “prayer”. In other words, you can practice mindfulness meditation without learning or practicing MBSR.
Mindfulness Isn’t Just Sitting Meditation
When people think of meditation, they usually think of sitting meditation. But did you know that you can practice mindfulness meditation while walking, or cooking, or gardening? Heck, you can even practice mindfulness while doing Qigong or Tai Chi!
I’m joking, of course. This idea of meditating while in motion is also ancient, and it’s especially important in the Zen tradition.
The Zen tradition began in China roughly 1000 years after the Buddha died in India. In many ways, Zen was an ancient mindfulness revolution.
At the time, Buddhism had strayed from its mindfulness roots. It had become heavily ritualized, with Buddhist monks spending too muchtime chanting, reading sutras, and generally being rather unmindful.
The Zen tradition changed all this by emphasizing mindfulness meditation. And not just sitting meditation, but also moving meditation. In fact, in the Zen tradition, everything, from washing your bowl to sword fighting, can be meditation.
In a nutshell, Zen is all about staying mindful, staying completely in the present moment, whether you are washing your bowl, or practicing martial arts.
Qigong is Mindfulness Meditation
Did you know that the patriarch of Zen Meditation was also the patriarch of Shaolin Qigong? Same guy. Don’t be ashamed if you didn’t know this historical fact. Many people who practice Zen Meditation don’t even know it.
Bodhidharma was that guy. Imagine an enlightened drill sergeant, and you’re probably on the right track. (If you’d like to learn more about Bodhidharma, then please read my article entitled The Man Who Made Shaolin.)
Bodhidharma revolutionized Buddhism in China by emphasizing mindfulness. And one of the forms of mindfulness meditation that he taught to the monks at the Shaolin Temple was Qigong.
In fact, it’s likely that he taught them Lifting The Sky, the very first Qigong exercise that I teach to beginners.
Historically then, Qigong was a form of mindfulness meditation. The article that I wrote about the #1 mistake in Qigong, Tai Chi, and Meditation is all about staying present, about meditating in motion. The 10/30/60 equation that I reveal in that article is about mindfulness. (If you’d like to read that article, then please click here.)
So my students can rest easy. When you hear Oprah or Dr. Oz talking about the importance of practicing mindfulness meditation, you can pat yourself on the back. Mindfully, of course.
Tai Chi is Mindfulness Meditation
What about Tai Chi? Is that also mindfulness meditation?
Historically, Tai Chi is a form of Kung Fu that traces its roots back to the Shaolin Temple in China. However, the development of Tai Chi was more heavily influenced by Taoism than by Buddhism. Thus, the Tai Chi tradition probably wouldn’t use the term mindfulness.
In my experience, the answer is a resounding YES! In fact, I find Tai Chi to be one of the most effective forms of mindfulness meditation.
Sitting meditation is an advanced technique. It’s also hard. Many people aren’t ready for it. (My article entitled Why Sitting Meditation Isn’t For You explains this in more detail.)
The flowing movements of Tai Chi are a wonderful way to slip into mindfulness. There’s a phrase in Chinese that sums this up:
Use 1 thought to dispel 1000 thoughts.
That’s why Tai Chi is so effective in developing mindfulness — because of the flowing movement. That’s the “1 thought” that we can focus on, and as we do, we dispel the thousands of other thoughts that are running around in our Monkey Mind. When we dispel thoughts, when we quiet the mind, that’s when we experience mindfulness.
Mindfulness Is Our Future
Although the term mindfulness traces back to an ancient Indian word (sati in ancient Pali; smṛti in ancient Sanskrit), the concept does not belong to India. Nor does it belong to China.
It does not belong to the East.
One might argue that mindfulness is now more widely embraced in the West. Even if that’s true, mindfulness does not belong to the West.
Mindfulness belongs to humanity. It is the future of our species. For too long, humanity has been lost in thought. Our Monkey Minds have run amok. In order to evolve to the next level, we need mindfulness.
Humanity is on a trajectory that it cannot sustain, and much of this is due to a lack of mindfulness.
I believe that we will have no choice but to embrace mindfulness. Humanity is on a trajectory that it cannot sustain, and much of this is due to a lack of mindfulness. For example, it is a lack of mindfulness that leads us to destroy the rain forests that provide the oxygen that we breathe.
Mindfulness is in the news right now largely because of the health benefits that it conveys. And that’s important. Certainly, it’s a huge part of my own mission with my teaching.
But mindfulness is about more than just health. Mindfulness is also about living a richer, more meaningful life.
- When we are mindful, we don’t just gulp down our food and swallow it; we savor it, not just for the taste, but for the nourishment that it provides.
- When we are mindful, we don’t just interrupt a friend while they’re talking; we listen, deeply, not just to the words, but to their underlying message.
- When we are mindful, we don’t just rush from place to place; we walk mindfully, aware of our surroundings, the sky, the ground beneath us.
Practicing mindfulness during your Qigong, Tai Chi, or Meditation practice is wonderful. It is an important step, and one that much of humanity has not yet taken. But it is only the first step.
Things are changing. If you have read this far, then it’s likely that you are part of that change. Congratulations. You are a member of the mindfulness revolution.
Now go wash your bowl.