The notion of mindfulness has different meanings on different levels. Let’s start with the highest and go from there. The underlying basis of everything in existence, including you, is pure unbounded Consciousness. As your awareness evolves, you become increasingly awake to that level. When fully awakened to it, it is experienced as a backdrop to everything in existence. I guess you could say it is similar to how a TV screen is the backdrop to all images, stories, and melodramas projected onto it. Mindfulness exists in a place beyond space and time – eternally present. The true state of mindfulness then is a physiological state, the culmination of evolution.
A state of true mindfulness is sometimes referred to as the witness. In the state of witnessing, you are awake to the level where nothing is really happening. This is what is referred to as maya in the Vedic tradition, the idea that reality is all about change, things, relativity, and action. In the state of pure mindfulness, the backdrop, the underlying reality, transcends relativity, duality, action, etc. When first experienced, it is rather a strange experience. It is as if when you are walking, you are not really walking. The body is walking, and the you, your being, your deepest awareness, is just witnessing the body walking. There is, in fact, an entire approach to spiritual growth sometimes called karma yoga where people try to witness. It is remarkable that thousands, if not millions, of people practice that as a spiritual technique, when in fact it doesn’t work. It is like pretending you are a millionaire. It doesn’t make you a millionaire.
This state of true mindfulness, sometimes called enlightenment, is cultivated over time, primarily through proper meditation. Proper meditation, for example the Surya Ram Meditation, has nothing to do with pretending or trying to be in the eternal present. Sadly though, many meditation techniques do exactly that.
It’s important to note that experiencing pure Consciousness as a witness is temporary. The reason it is experienced as a witness is because there is initially a huge gap between wakefulness to pure Consciousness (the Transcendent) and one’s relative experience of life. They coexist, but are experienced as quite distant from one another. As one lives in that state, over time the physiology refines and the gap is reduced and ultimately disappears. This is all a very profound and beautiful experience, the description of which goes beyond the bounds of this article. I have lectured and written extensively about it in other places *.
The term “mindfulness” is often used as a practice of attempting to keep your awareness on the present, trying to be completely mindful of what is going on in the moment – in the room, in the conversation you may be having, in the activity you may be doing, or what have you. In actuality, that is neither constructive nor healthy.
This all takes place on a more superficial level of life. But by superficial, I do not mean unimportant, I just mean different. On the superficial level of life, past, present, and future exist. Even when the awareness and physiology are functioning properly, there are times when the mind’s attention is absorbed in thinking about the future or the past, having little to do with what is going on in the present moment. In the state of true mindfulness, attention on the past, future, and present are all quite healthy and natural. Trying to force the mind to stay in the present moment does little more than cultivate a state of neurosis, compromising the evolutionary process.
Having said that, at times it is of course important to be able to pay attention to what is going on in the moment. That is just common sense. However, attempting to do that as a spiritual technique is misguided.
The bottom line here is that spiritual growth is a normal and natural process. It seems that many think of it as just the opposite, expecting spiritual leaders to be somehow other-worldish and quite different from what most would deem normal behavior. Personal evolution is a subtle process, a normalizing process, a sublime process. Looking for radical differences on the surface of life in an attempt to believe that you are attaining spiritual progress is largely misguided. There are, of course, certain parameters to stay within on the surface of life, like not becoming an alcoholic, getting a reasonable amount of sleep, eating healthy foods, etc. However, attempting to manipulate your life on subtle levels is unnatural and undermining of your spiritual growth. That is like taking the petals of a rosebud and peeling them back one at a time in an attempt to make a blossom. It is the natural unfolding of the bud that births the beautiful flower.
If you take only one thing from this article, remember that whatever techniques you employ to facilitate your spiritual growth, they must be natural.
What Is Enlightenment?
How to Get Enlightened
Integrating Unboundedness and Boundedness
Spiritual Evolution Q&A
The Self is Revealed to the Self by the Self
What is Enlightenment?
The Golden Frog