Moments of mindfulness

I first wrote a little about mindfulness a while back, thinking about the movement towards mindfulness, and something Kevin Barry, the Irish writer, said about the merits of mindlessness.

Can mindfulness ever cause your mind to be too full? Where’s the line between mindfulness, defined as “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something”, and over-thinking?

Going too far the other direction, mindlessness can cause mindless acts, which might often have negative and far-reaching consequence.

But perhaps there’s a balance to be struck.

I’ve been thinking more about mindfulness over the past few weeks. I made a new attempt to start a meditation practice, perhaps the fifth or sixth time I’ve tried it over the past few years.

None of the previous efforts worked, for a couple of reasons: I really, really, really struggle to still my mind on my own and just sit quietly, so I always felt I needed a guided meditation practice, but all the guided meditations I tried seemed strangely unsettling: odd, disembodied voices, on top of a soundtrack of soft music that I found distracting.

I’ve been listening to Sam Harris’s podcasts for a few years now, and generally find him a brave and compelling voice of reason and questioning in a world that’s quick to rush to judgment.

I was aware that Harris, who is a neuroscientist and has practised mindfulness meditation for decades, had put together a meditation app and platform, Waking Up.

The introductory course is gentle and satisfying, and while I would not say it’s easy, the series of 10-minute guided meditations have given me a glimpse of what a sustained meditation practice could give.

One of Harris’s pieces of encouragement during the first week is to notice moments of mindfulness throughout the day: nothing more than noticing your awareness of the present moment, out of and away from the swirl of thoughts about the past and future that routinely occupy our minds.

And in a way, that’s all mindfulness really is: noticing our awareness of, or our awareness of noticing, the countless small things that show themselves to us every day.