Popular definitions of mindfulness
Jon Kabat-Zinn: “Simply put, mindfulness is moment-to-moment non-judgmental awareness.” (Full Catastrophe Living, p. xlix)
Thich Nhat Hanh: “Mindfulness is what brings us back in touch with what’s happening in the present moment in our body, in our feelings, in our thinking, and also in our environment.” (Peace Is Every Breath, p. 6)
Jan Chozen Bays: “Mindfulness is deliberately paying full attention to what is happening around you and within you—in your body, heart, and mind. Mindfulness is awareness without criticism or judgment.” (How to Train a Wild Elephant, p. 2)
The recurring qualities in these definitions are
- awareness to the present moment (not the past or future),
- empirical focus on the bodymind and its surroundings (not ideational), and
- acceptance (not judgmental).
Scientific definition of mindfulness
Scott R. Bishop and colleagues: “In summary, we see mindfulness as a process of regulating attention in order to bring a quality of nonelaborative awareness to current experience and a quality of relating to one’s experience within an orientation of curiosity, experiential openness, and acceptance.” (Mindfulness: A Proposed Operational Definition in Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice 11(3), p. 234)
Traditional definition of mindfulness
Dalai Lama XIV: “Mindfulness [sati] is bringing to the present the awareness of things that you have learned.” (Emotional Awareness, p. 55)
B. Alan Wallace: “The primary meaning of sati […] is recollection, non-forgetfulness. This includes retrospective memory of things in the past, prospectively remembering to do something in the future, and present-centered recollection in the sense of maintaining unwavering attention to a present reality.” (Emotional Awareness, p. 56)
Sati is different from the popular and scientific definitions because it has little to do with bare attention. Sati is neither cognitively confined to the present, nor is it void of ethical judgment. None of the three qualities mentioned above define sati. Thus, the Western understanding of mindfulness is quite detached from its traditional Buddhist meaning.
Broad definition of mindfulness
Margaret Cullen: “According to John Dunne, a Buddhist scholar at Emory University, the components of mindfulness as it is more broadly construed might include not only sati, but also sampajanna (clear comprehension) and appamada (heedfulness). Clear comprehension includes both the ability to perceive phenomena unclouded by distorting mental states (such as moods and emotions) and the meta-cognitive capacity to monitor the quality of attention. Heedfulness in this context can be understood as bringing to bear, during meditation, what has been learned in the past about which thoughts, choices, and actions lead to happiness and which lead to suffering.” (Emotional Awareness, p. 63)
Read that again: “the ability to perceive phenomena unclouded by distorting mental states (such as moods and emotions)”—sampajanna is surprisingly similar to mindcoolness. Consider further the piece: “what has been learned in the past about which thoughts, choices, and actions lead to happiness and which lead to suffering”—that’s fundamental to the self-knowledge required to do the True Will.
- The Basic Problem of Mindfulness
- Is Meditation an Escape from Life?
- What Is the Difference Between Mindcoolness and Mindfulness?
- 21 Ways to Misuse Mindfulness Meditation
- Blood Meditation (New Mindfulness Technique)
- MBSR Mindfulness Challenge – Part 1 [Introduction]