Mindfulness, Presence, Attention, and Da’as – oh My!

Mindfulness has become such a buzzword, that I think people are starting to ignore it. Personally, I’ve been learning so much about mindfulness and its benefits – therapeutic and otherwise – that I’m starting to get a bit hard on myself… I love and talk about mindfulness so much, why don’t I do it more? Interestingly, practicing self-judgment is not practicing mindfulness. 🙂 So I’ll forgive myself and continue.

It’s become such a buzzword, that many mindfulness teachers are all calling it something different, so you don’t realize that’s what you’re doing – well, so you won’t be put off by the word. To many, the word mindfulness is starting to get the same icky feeling as the word: “meditation.” Something either too hard to do, or too foofy-New Age-crystal-magic  for us “normal” people. So it can help to call it something else, whatever you like.

I’ll get right to explaining what mindfulness is and some links to some great TED talks I like on the subject, and after that, I’ll ramble on about the clever title and where I got it from involving where some people are going with mindfulness, if that’s of interest to you.

There are two main issues with mindfulness… no three! There are 3, 3 main issues with mindfulness. And none of them includes fanatical devotion to anyone, or any form of inquiry. (Nobody expected that, eh? That was an inside joke for those of us who like British slapstick comedy.):

  1. What is it?
  2. How do you do it?
  3. And why should I do this, exactly?

What is Mindfulness?

That’s a really good question. So good, that it has lots of different answers from lots of people. In ACT therapy (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, a therapy based on mindfulness), mindfulness is broken down into various different processes. That sounds boring, so I’ll invent my own definition. It’s: “cultivating attention, while being mindfully present with your da’as.” 🙂

That’s a joke, but it’s kind of close. It’s about being attentive and aware of the present moment and your experience of it with all your senses, feelings, and thoughts (or absence of them), in an attitude of non-judgmental acceptance and/or compassion. Well, just being aware of what you choose to be aware of, in that accepting attitude.

How Do You Do That?

Another great question, Shmuel Yosef! So good, that it has infinite answers, by also lots of people. You can be mindful of anything, your breath (classic ), your body, your thoughts, your feelings, what you see, hear, doing the dishes, fixing your motorcycle… etc.. There are tons of free mindfulness meditations, and apps, and everything on the net. Free classes, videos, etc… If one way doesn’t work for you, there’s another one that might. The point is to practice… it’s a practice.

Great analogy: When you climb stairs and it raises your heart rate, and makes you tired.. You don’t say “I did that wrong, or I can’t do this – forget it.” You know that you are training your body. Similarly, mindfulness is training your mind… it won’t always be pleasant, although it often is. (I got the analogy from Daron Larson’s Ted talk on mindfulness… link below.)

Why Should I “Do Mindfulness” anyway?

The best question. There are already hundreds of research studies out there proving that it’s good for you mentally and physically in tons of ways. It can help you quit smoking, or treat anxiety and depression. They even treat psychosis with it using ACT. But you don’t need to be addicted or psychotic to enjoy its benefits. It lowers blood pressure, stress levels, increase your sense of well being etc..

The reality is, being mindful is about being in your life. You can’t experience your life or learn new things, or connect to a loved one or anyone, without being here, now. (Are you aware and non-judgmentally noticing my excessive use of commas?) If you’re not experiencing your life, you won’t really enjoy it either. And if you numb yourself to avoid the painful parts of your life, they will sneak up on you in the end, in the form of physical or mental ailments at worst, and the lack of capacity to experience joy at best.

Want to try Mindfulness for about 20 Seconds?

Ok, fine. Follow the instructions… pause after each one to actually do it, avoid the urge to keep reading, focus on the instruction and pause to do it for a few seconds, or as much as you like. – Or, be aware of your choice to not do this exercise, and skip to videos. Or stop reading:

 

  • Notice what you are seeing on the screen in front of you… are there colors, words, images, what do you see? Be curious, and notice ….
  • …..
  • …..
  • Now, what do you hear, a hum something in the distance, soft sounds? Be aware of your hearing. Sounds can be interesting.
  • …..
  • …..
  •  Now, what do you feel in your body… notice your feet on the floor, feel in your body, are there sensations, cold hot, air on your skin, aches and pains… be aware and notice them. You weren’t even aware of those sounds until you brought your attention to them.
  • …..
  • ….
  • Are you thinking things as you try to focus your attention? What are those thoughts… Worried thoughts? Busy thoughts? Fearful thoughts? Loving thoughts? Acknowledge that they are thoughts, you can name them if you like. Or be aware of the stillness…
  • ….
  • ….
  • How are you feeling? What are the emotions you are experiencing? Are you bored? Annoyed? Grateful? Happy? Numb? Just be curious and open to what you are feeling….

Ok, I lied… that could take a bit longer. But you could do it in 20 seconds too. Daron Larson does an even quicker exercise in his vid.. That was like – a mindfulness pushup. You need to do more than one to experience real benefit, but it gives you a feel for the practice. 🙂

Mindfulness Ted Talks

Two amazing talks that discuss the “What is?” and the “Why do it?” questions:

The following talk emphasizes the capacity for self-compassion, and treatment of PTSD in veterans as well.

The Power of Mindfulness: What You Practice Grows Stronger | Shauna Shapiro | TEDxWashingtonSquare

Daron Larson, “Don’t Try to Be Mindful.” A wonderful explanation of what it is, and what it does for you over the long hall.

Don’t try to be mindful | Daron Larson | TEDxColumbus

Some Other Mindfulness Applications (Back to the Article’s Name)

My good friend Dr. Michael Karlin (mindfully name-dropping), co-founder of Life University in Georgia, calls mindfulness”Cultivating Attention” in his Compassion and Integrity Training he’s developing with Dr. Brendan Ozawa-de Silva (who I don’t know, but has such a cool sounding name when you listen to the sound mindfully). Cultivating attention sounds very peaceful and productive. Here’s a link to the CIT podcast of the course, along with practices. They are focusing on mindfulness as a way to help you grow into a more compassionate person, with integrity. They are doing really great work in prisons with this too.

I recently saw that www.soundstrue.com is hosting an Eckart Tolle (I don’t know him, but I did read “The Power of Now,” mindfully showing off my book-learning) mindfulness workshop… He calls mindfulness “presence,” and ads his brand of new-age spirituality to the mix. He’s a great mindfulness teacher, but you might not like the rest of it. (To my Orthodox Jewish readers: many of his ideas are not consistent with Torah ideas.) (I first got into Sounds True when I found they were the only ones hosting Dr. Brene Brown’s vulnerability program. Since the Opera hook up, she’s went real big, so she has her own site now. :))

In kabbalistic, chassidic and mussar thought, mindfulness is called Da’as/Da’at, and if you don’t have it, you aren’t experiencing God. Because you can’t experience God without experiencing what’s happening now. And Rabbi Doniel Katz (we went to the same yeshiva for a bit) is all about Da’as when he teaches Jewish spirituality and self-transformation with The Elevation Project.

A Bit of Resources

Those were just examples of different directions taken with mindfulness… There are so many places to go. www.Soundstrue.com has a lot of quality programs from a lot of famous teachers, from monks to, whatever – search for mindfulness on the site. Or just type in “learning mindfulness” on google, and see where good SEO takes you :). (Again, many of the programs on the site are not always consistent with Torah ideas, or are just plain avodah zarah. But many meditation programs are of the “medical” variety… just the helpful practice, without any religious or spiritual connotations. If you are Orthodox Jewish, ask your Rav, or use your judgment, and probably you should do both. I might write a post on my “other blog” about this topic, but this isn’t the forum.)

UCLA has an amazing free resource site: UCLA Mindfulness

If you like a soothing Australian man’s voice, try Russ Hariss’s Dropping Anchor Exercises… there’s a 40 second, 2 minute, and 11 minute recording.

There’s a lot out there. From classic lotus, to painting, dancing, and doing yoga mindfully, to mindful walking. See what works for you. It’s worth working it.

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