Neither this nor that

Mindfulness is often described as not doing but being, about awareness not action. But then it is also described as not being about stopping your actions such as your thoughts nor blocking out any of your senses. So it is not about stopping your thoughts from doing whatever they are doing nor about stopping anything from happening in your environment. So mindfulness is about being not doing but also about allowing doing to be. Mindfulness is about awareness not action but it is also about allowing actions to happen within our awareness.

Mindfulness is described as awareness of things as they are, so not changing anything but being more aware of how it is, however it happens to be. For example,  allowing your thoughts, your breath, your emotions, your bodily sensations and everything you can sense in your environment to be exactly as it is. However it is also about allowing change to happen in all of these areas; it is not about keeping all these things the same just as much as it is not about trying to change any of these things.

So mindfulness is about being not thinking. But don’t try to stop your thoughts, allow them to continue just as they are. But if your thoughts change, allow that to. Your thoughts may get slower or faster, louder or quieter, more positive or more negative, more repetitive or more creative; simply be aware and allow any changes that occur.

Mindfulness is about allowing your breathing to be as it is. Don’t try to change your breath, just be more aware of it as it is, but don’t prevent it from changing either. The breath may become slower or faster, deeper or more shallow, more regular or more irregular. Pay attention to both how the breath is and to any changes that occur.

The same goes for sensations in the body: be aware of them as they are, don’t try to change them or stop them in any way, but equally allow them to change in any way. Mindfulness is about allowing change without trying to bring about change.

This is perhaps easiest to grasp when being aware of external sensations such as when listening to sounds. It is apparent that we cannot do much about the sounds that are happening in the environment around us whilst we sit for a mindfulness practise: cars will continue to drive past, birds will continue to sing, the wind will continue to blow, rain will continue to fall.  The approach of allowing is clear here: we become aware of these sounds without trying to stop them or change them, but equally we allow them to stop or change if that is what they do.

So the trick of mindfulness is to adopt this very same attitude when we turn our attention to inner experiences that we are in control of, that is to take the same approach of allowing things to be as they are and allowing things to change as and when they will, without stepping in and making any effort to change or prevent change, even though we have the capacity to do that. With external sounds of the environment we don’t have that choice to prevent or encourage change, but with our thoughts and our breath, our emotions and physical sensations, we do have that choice and it is something we have a strong and long-standing habit of doing in many subtle ways.

So mindfulness is not just about becoming more aware of aspects of ourselves that are normally on autopilot, it is also about resisting the temptation to then try to bring about change, or prevent change, in these things we become aware of. Mindfulness is about generating a new habit of allowing change to happen, or not, in relation to things about ourself that we usually are either oblivious too or are constantly striving to increase or diminish.

Mindfulness is about allowing a natural growth and development to take place out of a space of being and non-judgemental awareness, otherwise known as unconditional love; it is not about trying to do nothing, nor is it about trying to change anything.

Perhaps a greater challenge is then apply this to not just yourself but also to others: be more aware and mindful of others, accept them exactly as they are without judgement and allow them to change as and when they do, without trying to change anyone and without doing anything to prevent change happening.

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