Monday, January 7, 2013

Mindfulness as Intimacy with Life

Part of the impetus for this blog is my sense that, in its exploration and appropriation of Buddhist ideas, Western psychology has focused overmuch on the concept of mindfulness. Even so, I think it is valuable to continue to deepen our understanding of mindfulness, and to explore ways to communicate its meaning to a general audience.

I have to confess that the word mindfulness itself has always possessed a certain alienness for me. Until I began to explore Buddhism, it wasn't a term I had ever encountered, and the word mindful had a slightly negative emotional resonance, suggesting the need for alertness to danger (e.g., “Be mindful of your thoughts, Anakin. They betray you.”).

I've found that many non-Buddhists have no context in which to interpret the concept of mindfulness, and that which is unfamiliar is often viewed with skepticism or even fear. One way I like to talk about mindfulness--and a way that has resonance in my own practice--is in terms of intimacy: intimacy with the body, intimacy with the breath, intimacy with the senses, intimacy with thoughts, intimacy with the heart, and, of course, intimacy with life. In addition to connoting deep attention, patience, and lack of judgment, the term also seems to evoke for many an attitude of caring.

Of course, for some the word intimacy has more negative associations, and may evoke fears of vulnerability or engulfment. Nevertheless, when working with those for whom the term has a more positive emotional resonance, I believe it can serve as an intuitive point of connection to the notion of mindfulness. In my own practice, it has often allowed me to enhance the depth and quality of presence.

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