What is Mindful Living?

Mindful Living / Friday, February 20th, 2015

Welcome to the mindful living blog! Our intention is to use this space to bring topics that will inform your choices in health, happiness and wellness.

We thought that the appropriate first blog should be on mindful living: what does it mean to live mindfully? And, what is mindfulness anyway?

In the East, mindfulness is a meditative technique, a vehicle to know the mind, with the ultimate goal of reducing suffering in the world through wisdom and compassion. It was first introduced in the Sattipathanna Sutta by Siddartha Guatama, the Buddha, where he gave clear instructions on how to cultivate this particular kind of awareness both formally through meditation practice, and informally in the way we conduct our day-to-day activities.


Mindfulness, however, is not only a Buddhist practice. Many cultures and religions throughout the world, outside of the Buddhist tradition, have mindfulness practices of their own. Sometimes these techniques are used within an actual meditation, other times they can be found embedded in ritual.

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Photo: Michal Chelbin, Institute for The New York Times

In the West, the word and idea of mindfulness was introduced first by Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer in the 1970s. Langer first noticed that many of us were living mindlessly- following a routine and acting on automatic behaviors based on fear, anxiety, anger, and untested assumptions. This led to error, pain, unhealthy habits, and a predetermined course of life; it inevitably led to suffering. Living mindfully,conversely, involves reevaluating our choices based on the present moment. To Langer, mindfulness was our innate ability to notice what is inside and outside of us, letting go of preconceived mindsets, and acting based on these new observations.

Mindfulness is more than a concentrative and stress-reducing practice. Recent studies have shown that mindfulness practice activates, rewires, and thickens areas of the brain involved with desirable human traits such as compassion, cooperativeness, and empathy. These findings make mindfulness a type of “work out” for the brain that is now used to treat patients in diverse settings.

These benefits can be cultivated without formal mindfulness meditation practice. Mindfulness is a novel way of engaging with the world, a deliberate way of paying attention. Here comes to mind the analogy made by Zen teacher, poet, and author Tich Nhat Hanh: “When you are lost at sea at night and you veer your boat towards the Northern star, you know you will not get to the star, that is just your general direction” Likewise, mindful awareness is an intention, not perfection.

In the last decades, the topic of mindfulness has blossomed into a vast garden that permeates almost all areas of human activity. Mindfulness is explored in scientific clinical settings in hospitals and medical schools; it is taught in kindergartens, and elementary schools; it has applications in the workplace, in the artist’s studio, in universities; in sports teams, in prisons and in law practices. It has been used in the military, and yes, even in corporate America.


Photo: Bryce Johnson, Science For Monks

So how is this simple idea able to fit so neatly into such a wide range of contexts? The key is that it is not only a meditative practice, something to do for a few minutes each day to quiet the mind, but an actual way of living that can complement any situation. It is, of course, about paying attention, but above and beyond this, it is about doing so with an open and kind attitude that fosters a sense of community and togetherness. Kindness is such an integral component of mindfulness, that Zen teacher Noah Levine renamed mindfulness “kind awareness” to embody the practice.

Mindful living is choosing to act in ways that are informed by wisdom and compassion for the benefit of everyone. It is an active and engaged way of living that does not solely turn inward, but begins with those around us, in our sphere of influence, our family and friends, co-workers, neighbors, fellow commuters, our city, country, and the global community. Mindful living is recognizing that we all depend on each other, that the true happiness of our apparent enemies will lead to peace that will benefit us all. Mindful living is a deliberate contribution to making our lives and this place a better home for all.

What does mindful living mean to you?

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