The M Word


A confession: I genuinely dislike the word “mindfulness.” Which is, okay, kind of embarrassing because I practice it, I study it, I teach it.

So what’s the problem?

When I became a vipassana meditator in the late ‘90s, I knew nothing about meditation, nothing about bare attention or dharma or any of the anything that now falls under the ever-widening umbrella of “mindfulness.”

What I knew is that I was deeply unhappy.

I was like Mr. Duffy, in James Joyce’s story A Painful Case. Much like Mr. Duffy, I lived “a little distance from my body,” and I regarded all of my actions through a lens of self-doubt.

I lived this way for many, many years. And then a book changed my life.

In this case the book was Mark Epstein’s Thought Without a Thinker. By the time I finished it, I knew I wanted to learn how to practice vipassana meditation.

For better and for worse, I’m one of those people who tends to bypass the shallows and jump headlong into the deep end. A few months after I finished that book, I signed up for a 12-day silent meditation retreat.

The story of that retreat is another story entirely, but here’s the last sentence: And she was happier ever after.

Some might say that my happierness had to do with becoming more “mindful.” I disagree. “Mind-less” is more accurate. Vipassana meditation, in its most basic sense, is the practice of focusing your attention on things you do all the time, like breathing and sitting and walking and thinking.

It’s that simple. (And that complicated.)

But when you do it—regularly and patiently and with kindness—it doesn’t just change your mind. It drains it of all the heavy weight that generally causes unhappiness.

In other words, the practice makes room for a kind of freedom from your mind.

The bliss of…mindlessness.
But…would millions of people aspire to a Mindlessless movement? Probably not!

So, okay! I surrender to the zeitgeist!
Mindfulness it is.
A practice, a mode of being and learning that teaches a person just to observe our profoundly simple, and simply human, experiences.

Like breathing. (You’re doing it right now.)

Or like paying attention to whatever is happening in your body. Right now. Your back against your chair. Your feet in your shoes. That eye roll just now. Or maybe that smile.

Paying attention. Without judgement. With patience. Even with amusement. And love—compassion, yes—for yourself, for others (even the difficult ones.)

Your mind will lighten.
Call it emptiness. Call it fulness.
Call it whatever you want.

I call it wisdom.
Embodied wisdom.
I call it a wise way to be alive.