To be mindful means not only to be attentive, present, awake and aware, it also means to mind – that is, to care, to look after – as in ‘please mind my child’ or ‘please mind how you go’. In this way we can refer to mindful meditation as ‘minding meditation’ – minding ourselves, minding others and minding the planet we inhabit. Minding means looking after ourselves, other beings and the whole environment upon which we depend. ‘To mind’ implies paying attention, and taking care of, what we think, say and do, and to what others think, say and do – and to the context in which the thinking, saying and doing occurs.
Although I’m not going to expand on this now, we can also use the term, ‘minding’, to refer to the activity of the mind – the continuous, dynamic processes of consciousness, thought, imagination, perception and emotion that constitutes our experience – in the same way that we can use the term, ‘selfing’, to refer to the continuous process of self-construction that goes on from moment to moment, as we develop and revise our sense of who we are as we grow – hour by hour, day by day, year by year.
Interest, appreciation and enjoyment flow from attentiveness – being mindful gives rise to appreciation and care, because the more we notice, and the more cleanly, and clearly, we notice, the more we find to spark our interest and appreciation. To use a horticultural metaphor: we don’t need to cultivate a patch of ground for interesting, puzzling, beautiful plants to grow – they’re already growing there – even if we call them weeds.
If we reflect a little longer on the meaning of minding, noticing and paying attention, we can see that they imply or give rise to important ethical values and considerations.
If we are to act in the world in a wise, caring and responsible manner we first need to be aware – to take notice of what we do, what others do and the context in which things are done. So much that is hurtful in our, or anyone else’s, behaviour, is done out of negligence, ignorance or inattention – rather than out of a conscious desire to hurt or do harm. We often don’t notice the effect our thoughts, words and actions are having – or we’re so caught up in an argument, or in our feelings, that we are not even aware of what we’re saying. In the heat of the moment we say things that, with a moment’s attention and reflection, we probably would not have said.
Like most people, when we are aware of what we think, say and do, and realise the potential consequences of our thoughts, words and actions, we are usually thoughtful and considerate. It is when we fail to notice, or pay attention, that we revert to habit and routine, and to thoughtless reactions that can easily be hurtful to others, and to ourselves. These patterns of inattention leading to thoughtless or unintended words and actions apply to communities and nations as much as to individuals. Many conflicts that arise between individuals, groups and states can be seen as resulting from unmindful actions – from not noticing or not paying attention to what we, and/or others, are doing.
If we are inattentive rather than attentive, unthinking rather than thinking, absent rather than present, then we exist in a twilight zone – unable to feel, think or act in an informed and caring manner. In a sense, we are only partially awake, only partially conscious of what we are doing, let alone what we should be doing. Anything we do in this state of not noticing and not minding, is necessarily uninformed – and probably driven by habit, preconception and assumption, rather than by wise reflection and clarity of decision-making. In this way inattention, not noticing and not minding, often lead to harmful and careless consequences.
The practice of minding, of mindful meditation, can enable us to develop the skills necessary to be aware of what we are thinking, feeling, saying and doing – and to care about the actual and potential consequences of our actions. In this way an ethical path opens-up from the simple act of being mindful – a path that integrates clarity of attention with compassion, care and kindness – minding in the fullest sense of the word.