Saturday, January 07, 2006

The difference between mindfulness and ordinary thinking

What are the benefits of cultivating what's known as "observer consciousness"? Jon Kabat-Zinn discusses this in his book, Coming to Our Senses:
Once you have tasted some degree of concentration and stability of focus in your attention, it is somewhat easier to settle into such stability of mind and reside within it at other times than on retreat, right in the midst of a busy life. Of course, this doesn't mean that everything in the mind will be calm and peaceful. We are visited over time by all sorts of mind states and body states, some pleasant, others unpleasant, others so neutral they may be hard to notice at all. But what is more calm and more stable is our ability to attend. It is the platform of our observing that becomes more stable. And with a degree of sustained calmness in our attending, if we don't cling to it for its own sake, invariably comes the development of insight, fueled and revealed by our awareness, by mindfulness itself, the mind's intrinsic capacity to know any and all objects of attention in any and every moment - as they are, beyond mere conceptual knowing through labeling and making meaning out of things through thinking.

We do that a lot, you know. We label things and make things up. We layer on interpretations of our experience so that we forget what the original experience actually is. Observer consciousness is about direct experience without all those extra layers of thinking. It's actually quite refreshing.

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