Just recently on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper explored the subject of mindfulness. He participated in a group led by the scientist Jon Kabat-Zinn, who has been practicing mindfulness for forty-seven years. The only thing I found rather amazing in all of this is it has taken the public and MSM a very long time to see the immediate benefits of so-called “mindfulness practice” which, by the way, is very effective for depression.
When I began to study Zen back in 1965 I learned Zen mindfulness which is far more intense than in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s group. My teacher expected awareness all the time, even being mindful of what you are thinking. In fact, if he asked me what I was thinking about, I had to tell him. This served to make me become, over time, very aware of my thinking. Daydreaming began to fall by the wayside!
I had to learn how to brush my teeth with mindfulness, sweep with mindfulness, take care of the temple garden with mindfulness, even load the dishwasher with mindfulness! This included placing bowls down, making tea, digging a hole or helping Sensei put on a new roof required intense mindfulness. Zazen was actually relaxing if you can imagine that.
Eventually, a person learns how to do this on their own—it becomes internalized. I should mention that it serves as a baseline. If, for example, you get out of kilter with a stressful day at work, you know exactly how to get back on kilter. This is a practice, once you learn it, has to be kept up. When I practiced Zen mindfulness living alone doing kung-fu/gongfu (the term kung-fu is used in Zen for very serious dedication/work to win awakening to pure Mind) it was doing zazen in an old abandoned mine and many other things with intense devotion to mindfulness. I became aware of each step I took; how I used my hand tools; cooked and studied. But more, I was aware of my mind. I knew that I was looking at pure Mind but was clueless to how it was on its own terms. I still couldn’t see it. The whole process of mindfulness is working back to ‘zero’ you could say; it has the effect of neutralizing everything around us making it less than what it was before (i.e., making it illusory). I realized that this helped me, eventually, to see pure Mind on its own terms—but not without mindfulness leading the way.