What are the Qualities of Mindfulness?

Many mindfulness studies have centered on the benefits of meditation, such as improvements in fitness, learning, decision-making, self-awareness, self-regulation, insight, compassion, and imagination. If at all, how can those effects be incorporated into the concept of mindfulness? 

How does mindfulness, for example, apply to our meanings of “self” if it is a mechanism for increased self-awareness? We recognize that at the age of two, a sense of self emerges—that is, a recognition of "I" as opposed to "you." 

Along with this sense of self comes a sense of time, and the "presence" of youth fades in the face of the past and future that consume so much of adult life. 

We always don't distinguish the "I" aspect of ourselves from the experiences we have—for example, "I am happy" or "I am running"—and we can describe ourselves based on the rise and fall of our history of experiences ("I am a triumph," "I am a disappointment," "I am a doctor," "I am a wife," and so on). 

Mindfulness teaches us how to contribute to ourselves by introducing us to the current moment. In this way, mindfulness is linked to self-concepts and self-transcendence, a theme that runs throughout the novel. 

Mindfulness also draws our attention to how we see the universe, or our mental framework. Our universe is influenced by our experiences and the wisdom we gain from science, fiction, poetry, and other means, as we'll see later. 

Everyone has a very different perspective on the universe. Language, history, and personal experiences from birth to death, as well as memory and a variety of physiological and psychological influences, all contribute to the formation of a mental structure. This structure varies over time—consider how you viewed the universe when you were five, fifteen, and thirty-five—but it continues to play a significant part in how you view the world. Consider what would happen if you were born in the year and were given a mobile phone or a plasma television. 

The perception might be incompatible with your understanding of how the world operated at the moment, and you may fail to believe in the existence of these things or attribute their functioning to some kind of witchcraft. Mindfulness is paying attention to what is happening right now, in the current moment. This kind of focus is known in Buddhist literature as "bare attention," or seeing things as they are without any shading from previous events—or, to put it another way, seeing things as they are without relation to your mental structure, recollection, or mind-set that you add to your experiences. Is this really conceivable? Is it possible for you to distinguish your philosophical construct from your personal experience? What would you see if you could? 

Mindfulness is a technique for posing this question to yourself, and research suggests that mindfulness practice can and does change conceptual constructs. Other approaches have been researched throughout history, with scientists looking at everything from warped worldviews of certain mental illnesses (such as psychoses) and outlook shifts caused by hallucinogenic medications, brain cancers, hypnosis, theological convergence, near-death encounters, and other occurrences. 

For example, in the s, Aldous Huxley took the hallucinogen mescaline as part of a research experiment on the effects of the drug, and scientists asked him questions and reported his reactions in real time while he was on it. “When I got up and walked around, I could do so very naturally, without misjudging the whereabouts of objects,” Huxley said when asked about rooms. While space was still there, it had lost its dominance.” “There seemed[ed] to be enough of it... but just how much was completely irrelevant,” he said when asked about time. Of course, I should have checked my watch, but I knew it was in another world. 

My real reality has been, and still is, either of an infinite period or of a permanent current made up of one constantly shifting apocalypse.” Huxley's understanding of space and time underwent a transformation. When Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist, had a left-hemisphere brain hemorrhage, she encountered a similar change. Her psychological structure of the universe and her "self" in it changed as dramatically as Huxley's under mescaline after her stroke. The essence of the various positions our brain hemispheres play in constructing our mental structures and forming our realities was what she saw during this transition. 

We should use mindfulness as a means to explore mental constructs, reduce the impact of preconceptions, and experience “what is” by preference rather than medications or neurological harm. Ironically, this echoes the fundamental precept of all science: to observe data without preconceptions about what it would reveal. This theory of information exploration is shared by mindfulness and science, but the former explores it by first-person observational techniques and the latter by third-person observational techniques. 

We will learn how to interpret mindfulness from a science lens as scientists move mindfulness into the lab (both experimentally and naturally), but a genuine interpretation of mindfulness includes this first-person perspective as well.

You may also want to read more about Mindfulness Meditation and Healing here.