Mindfulness (5): Is 'a bit' enough? - RSA

Mindfulness (5): Is 'a bit' enough?

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  • Mindfulness
  • Social brain

Many things are 'a bit tricky', my two year old son has started saying he's 'a bit hungry', and you may be 'a bit curious' about where this is going.

Ed Haliwell, who spoke at the RSA Mindfulness event in 2010, has just written an interesting piece asking whether the expression 'a bit of mindfulness' is problematic. He is concerned that speaking in this way conveys that mindfulness is something discrete that can be tacked on to existing lifestyles and practices, rather than, as it perhaps should be, something that permeates one's life in a more holistic or systemic way.

I share his concern for language forms. In Sanskrit and Pali they speak about 'Namarupa' which essentially means that things take the form(rupa) of their names(nama). I first heard this from an Ayurvedic practitioner who expressed concern for the company Aveda because while veda means knowledge, 'a' typically expresses a form of negation. In other words, the company name appears to mean 'without knowledge'...she liked their products but feared that sooner or later their 'namarupa' would catch up with them.

When it comes to Mindfulness, for me the biggest challenge, unpacked in detail in Ed's book, The Mindful Manifesto, is to appreciate the idea that mindfulness invites a form of being as much as being another thing to do. I have written about this distinction, between Doing and Being , before, and I feel that 'a bit of mindfulness' does make it sound like something that one does...another thing to be squeezed into our bloated schedules, rather than a constructive form of inaction that problematises the madness of constantly trying to do something.

Or maybe that's a bit strong?

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  • Hi Sinead, 

    I take your point- that stimulating interest and changing patterns has some value in itself, and doing 'a bit' is as much as one can do sometimes to make that happen. Once you have somebody's attention it is easier to think about some sort of larger transformation.


  • Hi Jonathan

    Lovely article thanks. I am going to disagree a little though. My work is around introducing busy people to better ways of working, which includes a bit of mindfulness as you call it. For me this is important as it opens the door and mind to exploring more of these ideas and ways of being. The same thing with yoga which I have been practising for 11 years - my entry point (keep fit, get toned) is very different from where I am today, but we all have to start somewhere.

    I do like the concept of Nāmarūpa - I might steal that for my new book The Business Yogi!


  • Thanks Matthew. Such terms do lose their meaning over time...but that's just the nature of language as a living thing I guess. We can also revitalise words in various ways...or find new words to express similar phenomena...but either way language tends to be slow to catch up with change in ourselves and the world. I think the poet Joseph Brodsky argued that this is why we should write every day- to keep pace with the changes in our psyche.
    And of course mindfulness is difficult....it's quite astonishing when you first see your mind in action and realise how hard it is to stay with an idea or a sensation or even just 'the breath' for more than a few seconds at a time.

  • Hi Jonathan,

    'Mindfulness' may well end up going the way of 'soul', 'spirituality', 'Zen' et al - that are thrown around willy-nilly to mean pretty much whatever the person wants.

    In my experience of tryig to practice mindfulness, it takes a lot of effort to get into the state of present-centred, embodied awareness (or whatever we ought to call it!) - particularly in the midst of everyday life.

    It is *very* difficult to stay in this noticeably different state for long - despite what Eckart Tolle might say ;-)

    I don't see it as a form of inaction - you can carry out your usual daily actions mindfully, but if you manage to do this for more than a short time I'll be soooo impressed. Especially with actions that involve conversations with others etc.

    The fact that it is so difficult is what makes such daily experiments in mindfulness so powerful, I suspect.

    There's no need to read Ed's book about it, we can all just make the effort to be mindful, present, in our bodies... right this instant! ;-)




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