In spiritual circles, nothing causes more buzz than the opportunity to learn a practice—a breathing or meditation technique, for example—designed to increase consciousness. We sense the “enlightenment” waiting just behind it. Certainly, I was one of those students whose eyes widened at the possibility. mindfulness
I can’t say I felt that same kind of buzz generated towards practices designed to increase mindfulness. Mindfulness can sound less like an enlightening escape into the vastness of time and space and more like a daily duty, or at best, a grounding technique. If practicing consciousness-raising techniques feels like getting ready for a dinner party, practicing mindfulness feels like going to the grocery store: we know we have to do it, but it’s not that glamorous.
However, in my personal experience, I have found that these two practices—increasing mindfulness and raising consciousness—are not actually disconnected, nor are they developed separately. In fact, nothing increases consciousness quite like committing to a practice of mindfulness. And yet it does so in a way that doesn’t take us up and out of our bodies, but rather keeps our feet on the ground and our eyes on the road—right here on the planet where we can utilize our increased consciousness to be of most mindful service in the world.
Here are six qualities of a mindfulness practice, and how each one increases our consciousness:
1. Mindfulness Encourages Ongoing Self-Reflection
Above all, mindfulness is a practice of self-reflection. As we focus our single-pointed attention on a moment, interaction, or even just the breath flowing in and out of our lungs, we can’t help but notice details about ourselves, our thoughts, and our bodily reactions. These are things we might have been unaware of before but become quite evident under the light of attention. As my first yoga teacher used to say after a few minutes of guided deep breathing, “Now you know more about your breath than you did when you walked into the room.”
If, as the practice of mindfulness asks, we don’t run away from what we notice and learn, the possibility of integration and transformation arises. We know that we can’t change what we don’t recognize. Mindfulness ensures recognition. The consciousness shifts that happen as a result are not forced, but occur naturally.
2. Mindfulness Means Questioning Everything
Paramahansa Yogananda, author of Autobiography of a Yogi, was widely known as an enlightened human being. He said, “In the spiritual life, one becomes just like a little child, without resentment, without attachment, full of life and joy.” One of these childlike qualities is curiosity. Continued spiritual growth is dependent on not allowing ourselves—especially our thoughts and beliefs—to stagnate.
This means that no matter what our age might be in years, we remain connected to our youthful curiosity. Mindfulness, due to its wide and deep perception, naturally leads us to ask “why, why, why,” about everything from our social paradigms to our political systems to our own personal quirks. Without this sense of surprise and wonder towards life, our mind closes, our energy whirls down, and our consciousness ceases to grow.
On the other hand, curiosity cultivates increased consciousness by keeping our mind malleable and adaptable. As a result, our mind remains receptive to higher vibrations and patterns of energy and thought. Mixed with self-reflection (#1, above), we continue on our path to knowing who we are and where we fit in the universe.
3. Mindfulness Connects us to All-Time
Mindfulness is a practice that stretches time and space so we can better see the fabric of our human condition. Rather than defaulting to our knee-jerk human reactions, with mindfulness we drop into this expansion and choose, consciously, what our next words and actions will or won’t be. This place of no-time becomes, paradoxically, all-time. In it, we are capable of calling up past events that can help inform the current moment. As well, we can project the thread of karma, the reaction to our actions, into the future. So many of our regrettable moments are those characterized by an inability to call up previous life lessons or grasp the later consequences of our actions.
4. We Become Both Participant and Observer with Mindfulness
In this space of mindfulness and all-time (#3, above), we can see ourselves as participants in our experiences and observers of them, simultaneously. We can see how today we are the receivers, but on other day, we might be the activators. We see ourselves in others, and others in ourselves. This awakening to me-not-me, our universal interconnectedness, is one of the primary characteristics of an enlightened state of mind, and I would say also of a grounded, mindful mind.
5. Minfulness Helps us Find Comfort in the Silence
Our body is mostly space with atoms sprinkled about. Even the space within a single atom is vast; the distance between the electron cloud and the nucleus is analogous to a mosquito in the center of a football field. The universe, too is mostly space. In yoga and mindfulness practices, we enter the body to discover this spaciousness for ourselves. We learn how to enter the spaces between our bones, our muscles, our thoughts, even our breath. With mindfulness, we learn how to be at home in this space, the microcosm of our eternal and cosmic home. Rather than letting ourselves get caught up in a need to fill up our lives with activity and constant motion, we know, as the enlightened ones do, that spaciousness—space to think, to meditate, to dream—is our essential nature and we can unapologetically claim it in our lives.
6. Mindfulness Grows Wisdom and Calm Abidance
Growing mindfulness helps us to see, accept and attend to the wide array of human experiences. We become more able to hold our own personal experiences as they are, without needing to create an alternative narrative, cast blame or deflect. This doesn’t mean we enjoy suffering, it simply means that while pain is present, we have a greater ability to continue to breathe and connect with our soul, the highest voice of wisdom available to us. Likewise, when pleasure arrives, we don’t cling to it. We have experienced and understand pleasure’s intangible and fleeting nature. This wisdom and ability to abide calmly within the fluctuating states of our emotions and life experiences is a catalyst for raising our consciousness.
Today, human suffering, pain, disease, misunderstanding and separation marks our world. We always need a few enlightened beings scattered about the planet. But it is not the call, for most of us, to escape into blissful nirvana. Instead, we need more conscious beings working on the planet. For this, we don’t need special music or mantras. We just need more mindfulness.