Mindfulness Matters

CD1_2.jpgA recent article in Science (reviewed in the New York Times) lends support to what practitioners of mindfulness already know. First, our minds wander a lot. According to the study about 47% of the time (and the percentage of wandering varied considerably by activity). Second we are happier when concentrated on what we are doing. Not surprising being engaged in sex produced the least amount of stray thinking (only 10%) and the highest level of happiness. 

Data was collected by using an iPhone app and collected a quarter million data points from over 2,000 people. The study was conducted by Harvard Researchers Matthew Killingsworth and Dan Gilbert (author of Stumbling on Happiness). 
The highest level of mind wandering was observed in people engaged in personal grooming (65%). Again, this is not a surprise. Sex is compelling and naturally draws into mindfulness. Personal grooming is not so compelling and can be done quite automatically and thus attention is free to wander. 
And when attention wanders our happiness is diminished. We often think of happiness in terms of what we are doing, and this study highlights that how is more important than what. The authors note, “Our data suggest that the location of the body is much less important than the location of the mind, and that the former has surprisingly little influence on the latter. The heart goes where the head takes it, and neither cares much about the whereabouts of the feet.”
The article does not mention mindfulness but mindfulness is all over it. It does mention the concept of flow, a subset of mindfulness that arises when the activity we are doing provides the optimal level of challenge. However, flow depends on things being just so and only arises in exceptional circumstances. Mindfulness, however, can help us to bring flow to even the most ordinary and mind-numbingly boring activity. By doing so the activity is no longer boring. This is the gift of being present. 
While the study demonstrates happiness is more available in the present moment it doesn’t tell us how to improve our ability to stay with whatever it is that we are doing. Of course, this is precisely what mindfulness training does for our attention. It trains us to recognize when our thoughts have wandered away from the activity of the moment and to bring attention back to now. 
While we don’t need much encouragement to be mindful during sex we can take advantage of personal grooming time to practice being present, especially since this is the time when the mind most wanders and such wandering thoughts can set the tone for the rest of the day. If we can give our full attention to the experience of grooming and retrieve and return thoughts whenever they wander, grooming can become an informal mindfulness practice. 
To learn how to practice mindfulness, listen and download my guided meditation CDs from the Exquisite Mind. (The first 3 CDs are currently available). 


I met Jack Kornfield at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center in the late-1980s. And while I only had a brief opportunity to learn from him, I’ve always held a fondness for his writings and teachings. As you will see from this video, he is warm, approachable, and intelligent. 

In this video he provides the basic instructions for mindfulness meditation practice. 
To continue with guided meditation, you are invited to visit my website and listen to and download my guided meditation CDs (3 of the 8 CDs are now available including breathing, body scan, walking, standing, and mindful yoga practices). Visit the “Learn” section of to hear this practices. In the spirit of the dharma, these guided meditations are offered free of charge. 


Buddhism is a relatively new term, coined in the 19th century by Western “Orientalists” studying the cultures and traditions. Mu Soeng points out that, “Buddhism is not a unitary phenomenon.” It might be more accurate to say there are many Buddhist traditions that trace their origin back to the Buddha — Siddhartha Gotama — some 2500 years ago. 

The Buddha was not a Buddhist; he was not founding a religion and did not see himself as the leader of a religious movement. What was he doing then? Teaching the dharma to any and all interested parties (including members of any caste and later women). He viewed himself more as a physician offering medicine to cure the sickness that besets us.

In common parlance these two phenomena get mixed up — Buddha and Buddhism. I teach and practice Buddha rather than Buddhism. Buddha, recall, is a metaphor. When Siddhartha did what he did under the Bodhi tree that fateful night when he was 35 years old he became “Buddho” — awake. He had awoken from the delusion of existence and the constant gravity pull of craving to see things as they were. 

To refer to this as enlightenment is to use yet another metaphor and one that carries a different meaning. So he woke up that long night and after an agonizing struggle decided to help others to wake up too. He did so at first by teaching the Four Noble Truths. That’s Buddha and it is also an integral component of any Buddhist tradition.

Buddhism carries many connotations, appealing to some and off-putting to others. Buddha and the Four Noble Truths are, perhaps, universal, applying to everyone regardless of religious persuasion. It’s just that it’s hard to separate the term Buddha from the Asian images of a seated, half-smiling, androgynous figure. 

Certainly we are all situated in a personal context that is situated in a cultural context that is situated in an historical context. The cross-legged Asian Buddha comes with its own contexts. And while we are all shaped by these various contexts we all are born with the same neurological hardware and all succumb to one degree or another to the pull of desire. The case for universality of desire is strong, and this is why we all have the opportunity to awaken to a life that enjoys more freedom from the dictates of desire.

Meditation also seems exotic. Yet what is exotic about closing your eyes (or keeping them open) and paying attention to your breathing? What could be more prosaic? There is nothing mystical about this practice and nothing to bar access to any interested party. 

Indeed, we have all had our moments of Buddha whether we were aware of them or not. To practice mindfulness meditation is to make these moments more frequent and more accessible. We can go there at any moment, especially during the difficult moments of our lives. 

So, we are all Buddha. We all have the potential to awaken (or we are already awakened and just cut off from that realization). Good morning!

According to ecologist Eric Berlow in this 3-minute talk, complex is not necessarily complicated. This sounds to me like the human brain — the most complex thing in the known universe. What that brain does can be complicated — if we are in the grips of habitual thinking or it can be simplicity when we are practicing mindfulness. 

He concludes by saying, “For any problem the more you can zoom out and embrace complexity the better chance you have of zooming in on the simple details that matter most.” 
This again sounds like it could be the instructions for mindfulness meditation. When we can embrace the complexity of what our brains are doing — the infinite thoughts, the seemingly random chaotic frenzy of the mind we can find in this complexity the simplicity of breathing — “the simple detail that matters most.”

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