Mindfulness: State and Trait

Being mindful.  That’s the challenge, isn’t it?  How can I BE mindful?  When I sit to meditate I notice how active and wandering my mind is at that moment.  I do the work, redirect the wandering attention, and, in time, it slows down.  My mind becomes quite still.  My body relaxes.  I feel peace inside.  Problems that seemed to be Gordian knots dissolve, becoming recognizable and non-threatening.

“Being” mindful is the work of meditation, but if that was the entire story then I would be focused on meditating all day.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a lot on my plate!  As much as I love a good sitting session, I don’t have the time or the inclination to make that my primary activity for the day.  Mind you, I do love going on a meditation retreat, and it is a great pleasure to have the space to spend 10 or 12 hours a day in some form of formal practice, but unless I plan on joining a monastery, an idea Mrs. Walsh objects to, I won’t be spending that kind of time in my daily practice.  Twenty minutes this morning will have to do!

But, for me, spending my day in sitting meditation is not the point of “being” mindful.  Rather, the point of the sitting meditation is to deepen my capacity to “be” mindful throughout the day.  Mindfulness is a “state” of mind that I can practice when I sit, but it is also a “trait” of mind, an “enduring characteristic,” that can become a part of my basic temperament.  In a way, “mindfulness” is an aspect of personality, much like extraversion or agreeableness.  And it is an aspect of personality that I can develop in two ways.  First, I can “deepen” my mindfulness, reshaping my personality so that I am more awake in the moment and non-judgmental.  Second, I can “broaden” my mindfulness, remaining focused on “being” mindful throughout the day, and not only when I remember to be mindful.  By intentionally committing myself to BE mindful throughout my day, I strengthen my “trait” mindfulness.

I think it is important to be able to recognize whether your “state” mindfulness, your periods devoted to formal practice, are facilitating development of your “trait” mindfulness.  But how do you know if your mindfulness has become a trait of your personality?  I recently watched a music video of a VERY mindful man.  In the song he was singing he made three statements that, to me, embody trait mindfulness.  He talked about growing thoughts in the “garden of your mind.”  He reminded us that “every person you meet is different.”  Finally, he told us that it is “good to be curious.”  Your mind is a garden where thoughts grow (and YOU are the gardener!), every person is different (stop living your conditioned responses and experience the grand diversity of life!), and it is good to be curious (every moment brings something new and fresh to behold).  This very mindful person is one of my heroes, Fred (Mr. Rogers) Rogers, and here is the link to a marvelous musical video: 

I hope that you enjoyed watching and hearing Mr. Rogers once again.  He was a gentle soul who touched millions of lives, young and old.  And I hope that you’re able to recognize how being mindful moment to moment, throughout the day, is an invitation to live in the garden of your mind, recognizing the diversity of spirits, kindred and otherwise, that you meet during an ordinary day.  Yes, it’s very good to be curious, and our mindful awareness makes that quality second nature to us.

Peace,

Jim

PS In case you have trouble opening the YouTube video I inserted, here’s the URL for it:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFzXaFbxDcM&sns=em

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