What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a faculty of mind that can be intentionally cultivated through training. Mindfulness is characterized by a balanced awareness of what is happening, with clarity about our experience through each sense door. Mindfulness occurs naturally and can be developed further in anyone who is interested.

Mindfulness is an English translation of the Pali word “sati“, first articulated by the Buddha in the 6th century BC in northern India.  The Buddha emphasized the importance of establishing mindfulness in our life through formal meditation and training of attention in daily activities. These trainings are relevant for us in the 21st century and still possible to pursue.

Mindfulness is one of many mental qualities that we can cultivate as part of a training of the mind and heart that leads to the highest happiness and well-being possible. In learning to train our attention with focus, balance, calm, curiosity, and energy, we can gain insights that help us to lead lives that are joyful, present, peaceful, wise and grounded in integrity. We can understand how the mind works and how it affects ourself and others.

Mindfulness is part of a system of training that includes developing awareness of ethical conduct and embraces all aspects of our lives. This training is a discipline taught most directly and succinctly through the practices of Insight Meditation or Vipassana in the Buddhist tradition.

In the modern world, mindfulness has gained some fame as part of a system of stress reduction. While this is certainly possible, developing greater awareness of things that you previously ignored can sometimes be stress inducing! But overall the path of practice leads to seeing what has been hidden and living with greater freedom, and in the end all such stress can subside. The mind can stop running in unnecessary circles and be at rest.

For more on Mindfulness, please see the  book “Mindfulness in Plain English” by Bhante Gunaratana or the article “The Way of Mindfulness”  by Soma Thera. In this video , I describe some of the aspects of mindfulness. Come to a class or meditation group and try it out yourself! After training in these practices for over 25 years and teaching for 10 years, I have found that while it can be helpful to read about meditation, there is no substitute for putting it into practice. If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area you are welcome to join us for Monday Night Dharma.

— Anushka Fernandopulle