What is the Essence of Mindfulness

The contemporary definition of mindfulness that is widely accepted is outlined by Jon Kabat-Zinn as: “Awareness of the present moment on purpose, in a particular way and non-judgmentally.” We can all recognize that we need to be aware of what is happening in order to be able to do something about it. However, is being non-judgmental with our experience the end point of mindfulness, or is there more to it?

Consider the example of losing one’s keys. There is the initial judgment of the act itself of losing the keys. One might say: “This is a problem. Where did I last remember having them? Where do I need to look? If the keys can’t be found what needs to be done?” An evaluation of a situation but no one to take the blame for the loss. But what do we do? We create a sense of self that is responsible for what has happened and needs to be punished. We now state: “I am so bad. I am so careless. How could I have done this. I am terrible.” There is no separation between the judgment of the action and the self.

We self-reference every experience against our personal belief system of who we believe our sense of self is and should behave. The belief system is based on unmet psychological needs and inner child wounding.

It is important to recognize that judging is not the problem in mindfulness. It is SELF-REFERENTIAL JUDGMENT leading to a creation of a sense of self that is the problem. There can be discernment of the present moment based on whether the moment is congruent with the intentionality of kindness, compassion, respect, non-harming and generosity, not unmet personal needs.

When we ask one to be non-judgmental, implicit with this is a sense of restraint. Mindfulness is not about holding back but engaging with what is present and experiencing it fully in a somatic sense.

When we ask one to be non-judgmental this implies that what we consider needs to be judged to be real and true or there would be no need not to judge. The truth of our reality and self is that it is a temporary ephemeral conditioned construct. There is no need to judge or not judge an illusion.

Mindfulness is how one is in relationship with the sense of self. Can we follow the middle way? There is no need to grab on or push away. No need to judge or not judge. Can we simply be with what is as it is. Nothing to do. It is about BEING with what is, not DOING with what is.

The essence of mindfulness is not about being non-judgmental but non-identification and ultimately no creation of the sense of self. If there was no interpretation of each moment referenced against the belief system of who we believe we are, there would be no suffering!

by Dr. Phil Blustein
Sept. 7, 2023