Putting Heart into Mindfulness
Feedback from those who have trained in mindfulness is that it works. It changes you in profound ways. From my experience, we can talk about the benefits of mindfulness and how mindfulness changes the activity and density of the brain and get rapped up in this being the biggest difference it makes to someone. Our society is one in which we rely heavily on rationality and logic. It's not a society where we can more readily discuss the heart, what this means to us, and how mindfulness reconnects you back to your heart.
Mindfulness is actually 'heartfulness'
In all Asian languages, the word for mind and the word for heart are the same. And given the roots of mindfulness in the East, what we’re talking about in mindfulness is actually ‘heartfulness’.
Becoming mindful enables you to connect to the full spectrum of everything you experience or sense with purpose-felt attention as it unfolds in each moment. Awareness, knowingness or consciousness comes out of being mindful and this knowing, consciousness or awareness is non-conceptual – it happens before you have a thought about it. Think about that for a moment. Before a thought takes place, you have already experienced that taste, that touch, that sound, that sight, that smell or that knowingness.
While you may think that your brain is in charge and controls your body and emotions, embodied cognition now shows that your body also influences your mind. So if you want to have more positive thoughts and a sunnier disposition, it might just pay to smile more, even when you’re feeling down. In fact, in Taoism, one of the keys to good health is becoming aware of the positive and negative emotions relating to each organ and transforming the negative emotional energies to positive energies through the use of a smiling meditation.
One of the biggest outcomes of being mindful is that it opens and softens the heart
We love to have things scientifically proven to us in the West before we start trusting that things work. Indeed neuroscientists are uncovering how the brain develops and changes in relation to being more mindful and this is all fascinating stuff. But we run the risk of focusing too much on the science, facts and figures when in my opinion the biggest outcome of being mindful is that it makes you feel good on many levels from being calmer, to being more tolerant and patient, to experiencing the riches of life around you. Being mindful helps you to pay attention, not only to your thoughts, but also to your senses, your bodily sensations and to your feelings and it’s in this very practice where you start ultimately connecting to the entire spectrum of who you are. We have a greater (and some would say more intelligent) resource at our disposal other than our brain – our body, where the heart is located...
Mindfulness enables the mind to take a back seat and become the passenger
When you begin to see that your thoughts are no longer your master, and aren’t facts but mental events, there is no other place to be but in your body and in your heart. While we still need the use of our brain for many functions, mindfulness enables the mind to take a back seat and become the passenger while the heart becomes the driver. It's a bit like living a life where you do what you love, you love what you do, you love who you are and you love who you're with.
There’s an old Indian saying, “The longest journey a man (or woman) will ever take is the journey from head to heart,” and it’s a good reminder that mindfulness isn’t ‘just’ about training the brain. Heartfulness is central to mindfulness, and given the amount of interest being shown in mindfulness at this time, it is my hope that mindfulness and heartfulness are acknowledged as one and the same.