Awareness and Mindfulness. This week I will clarify these two words and introduce the functions they point to. Mindfulness, consciousness and awareness are often confused or misunderstood. This initial misunderstanding blocks the gate that leads to efficient and smooth spiritual practice.
Mindfulness is sometimes defined as “an ability to recollect”, “remembrance” or “knowing what is happening while it’s happening”. Therefore its function is to keep something in mind. We could also describe it as an ability to pay attention to something. Examples would be the classic “Mindfulness of Breathing”, where we keep the breath in mind. In this case we continuously remember that we are breathing. We counteract forgetfulness of the breath and know the breath as it’s happening directly. That’s what Mindfulness is.
We could define consciousness as that which beholds all sense experiences including those that are mind-based. Consciousness in this particular form is conditioned by its respective sense-base and the sense organ. We have therefore six types of consciousness. Eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind-consciousness. Thus without consciousness we could not experience the body and all sense-experiences including thought and emotions. Hence the activity of our senses conditions this type of consciousness.
Awareness is the deeper aspect of consciousness. This is the way we use the word awareness around here. It points to the nature of our mind – the deepest aspect of our being. We can define Awareness as “that which is clear and knowing”. With this in mind, it is not subject to conditioning. We can’t fabricate or make it. You also can’t add it to yourself by meditating hard like a Ninja 😉 as it’s at the very core of all possible experiences. The word “clear” describes the nature of awareness. It’s just like empty infinite space. Finally, the word “knowing” refers to its function of bare non-conceptual cognition.
When we practice Meditation, we are first making use of Mindfulness in order to stabilize the mind. Subsequently we gradually learn to redirect the attention back onto itself. This will either happen by recognizing all experiences as being momentary and impersonal (not me, not mine) or by allowing the mind to directly fold back onto itself and recognize the primordial nature of awareness. It’s almost like a flashlight that shines back onto itself rather than illuminating objects all around. There certainly are various techniques that can help with this recognition.
You might wonder: “But what’s the point?” Well, that’s simple! The point is the end of all suffering, misery, pain, unpleasantness. It’s the completion or culmination of this spiritual path – also known as enlightenment or awakening. It is profound self-recognition that effectively leads beyond all problems, internal and external conflicts.