By Julianna Raye
Mindfulness is a trending buzzword these days.
People throw that word around right and left and even create whole conferences around it.
Major companies like Google, General Mills, and Aetna offer their employees mindfulness meditation as part of their wellness programs.
Clearly, there’s something to this trend. But what, exactly, is mindfulness? And what is Unified Mindfulness?
Here’s what’s tricky about the word mindfulness: It has both an ordinary, everyday meaning and what we might call an “industrial strength” meaning. So, to know what it means, we need to consider who is talking as much as what they’re saying.
Because mindfulness has become so popular, many people use the word in a professional context, to sell their services. But, when we take a closer look, we sometimes find that their understanding of mindfulness does not extend beyond its ordinary meaning. That can be misleading and confusing to people who are looking in earnest to improve their lives with mindfulness. If you don’t understand how to distinguish between the ordinary idea of mindfulness and the actual meditative practice of it, you run the risk of not getting what you need.
What Is “Ordinary Mindfulness”?
When most people consider being more mindful, they typically think about being more aware of their surroundings, more careful, or more “present.” This general understanding of mindfulness definitely hints at the industrial-strength version.
However, this is a very informal, vague way to understand what mindfulness is. And it is difficult to quantify the impact or create a procedure for developing mindfulness, when you understand it only in this way.
You might think, for example, that to become more mindful, you need to be more alert, more on your toes. But, how do you do that? Drink more coffee?
Or you might imagine that increasing your focus during some activity—like getting in the zone when you go for a run—qualifies as mindfulness. Maybe you imagine that mindfulness means getting out of your head and paying attention to your surroundings.
This informal, ordinary way of understanding mindfulness involves ideas about paying more attention while doing whatever you’re doing. You might even have the idea that it’s good to sit still. But, the solutions you come up with when you think of mindfulness in this way are primarily conceptual. You get and share ideas about how to be more mindful. While it’s good to have ideas about how to increase your mindfulness, ideas alone are not clear enough to yield the powerful results that are possible. You need to practice attention exercises, consistently.
What Is “Industrial-Strength Mindfulness”?
On this site, we’re focused on what we call “industrial-strength” mindfulness.
Because industrial-strength mindfulness is a clear, empowering set of techniques and procedures that you can use to radically improve your life, from the inside.
For starters, when we refer to mindfulness on this site, we’re referring to a specific approach to meditation or contemplative practice. And meditation, at it’s root, is designed to strengthen your attention in specific ways.
Mindfulness meditation is the most popular form of meditation in the West. What’s more, it’s a secular practice. It won’t conflict with a faith you practice, and it won’t ask people who are not religious to take up a faith.
Mindfulness meditation is simply a set of skills that you develop to strengthen your attention. So, it is a skill-strengthening activity you perform with your attention, not just a concept to experiment with.
Some mindfulness teachers keep the definition of mindfulness meditation as simple as possible. These teachers want to make mindfulness easy to relate to, so that people will be drawn to try the practice itself. But simplicity does not indicate a lack of depth or precision.
For example, Jon Kabat-Zinn, who was the originator of the term “mindfulness” back in the 1970s, sometimes calls it “present moment awareness,” which sounds a lot like the ordinary concept of mindfulness. But, hidden within that simple definition is a radical paradigm shift.
For the majority of people, it takes a lot of mindfulness meditation practice to have the experience of true present moment awareness. And once you experience it clearly, your life is forever altered. Then, more than ever, you understand the value of laying the foundation for meditative insight and continuing to develop your attention skills, through practice.
So, while that definition of industrial strength mindfulness looks simple enough, it points to something profound and specific that typically only comes to light through consistent, disciplined practice. And once it comes to light, you become that much more dedicated to nurturing it.
What Is Unified Mindfulness?
On this site, we teach a style of mindfulness called Unified Mindfulness.
This system was developed by Shinzen Young, teacher of 50 years, neuroscience research consultant and author of “The Science of Enlightenment.”
Shinzen developed the Unified Mindfulness system, which is currently used in major research on meditation at places like Harvard and Carnegie Mellon, to offer people very clear instructions as well as tremendous flexibility. So, this system is known for both its precision and its adaptability.
UM gives you clear techniques for practicing mindfulness during any activity. Gradually, as you enrich your daily life through applied techniques, more and more moments become meditative. UM also allows you to draw on your own strengths and interests to practice your mindfulness skill development.
Let’s say you enjoy developing your skills through listening to music, eating, or running. You can do that. If you already enjoy doing a particular style of meditation such as TM (Transcendental Meditation) or focusing on your breath, Unified Mindfulness can support and enhance that practice. By making it clear what you actually do when you practice meditation – any meditation – Unified Mindfulness provides a comprehensive, universal framework for you to continue to grow through mindfulness meditation practice, while giving you the freedom to optimize it for your needs and interests.
Here’s How Unified Answers the Question “What Is Mindfulness?”
Mindfulness is a set of three attention skills—Concentration Power, Sensory Clarity, and Equanimity—all working together.
This means that for any style of meditation you practice, whether it’s TM, breath focus, loving kindness—really, any approach under the sun—so long as you’re developing these three essential skills, you’re getting an industrial-strength dose of meditation. As you explore this site, you’ll learn more about these three skills, how to develop them, and how they work together to help you create radical positive change in your life. Welcome!