The majority of feedback from those who have trained in mindfulness is that it works. It changes you in profound ways. Or more correctly, you start to ”be” that which you already are. From my experience however, we can talk about the benefits of mindfulness yet misunderstand what mindfulness truly is. It is easy in our society, where we rely heavily on rationality and logic, to become focused on how mindfulness is about training the brain, rather than about putting the “heart” in mindfulness.
Mindfulness is actually heartfulness
So what do I mean by putting the heart in mindfulness? The word mindfulness may indeed conjure up thoughts of the brain, yet in all Asian languages, the word for mind and the word for heart are the same. And given the roots of mindfulness, what we’re talking about in mindfulness is actually ‘heartfulness’.
Mindfulness is about connecting 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 connected to your body, embodied cognition now shows us 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.
The biggest outcome 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 opens and softens the heart. 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 which (in my opinion) is one of love.
We have a greater (and some would say more intelligent) resource at our disposal other than our brain – our body and our senses. An element of being mindful is to treat yourself with kindness and compassion without judgement of what you experience in each moment. Coupled with the changes in the brain, which have a knock-on effect to your sense of wellbeing, happiness and physical health, mindfulness can’t help but let your heart take centre stage, where it rightly belongs.
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 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.
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 your mind or changing the function of 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.