So what IS mindfulness?
Did my friend, in mid-sentence, suddenly become mindful? Shouldn't mindfulness bring greater calm and sense of connection? For him, his experience emptied his words of both meaning and feeling. He suddenly felt disconnected from himself. In a flash he had a kind of existential crises of meaning. No doubt some self-described intellectual would laud that experience as an authentic encounter. But my friend didn't see it that way, and I trust his "take" on it.
There are two kinds of mindfulness, just as there are two kinds of flow. In ego consciousness, mindfulness inclines to becoming self-conscious and, as my friend noted above, being self-conscious is when you "freeze-up," so to speak, and no more words come out (or they stumble out like drunks at 2 a.m.). The other kind of mindfulness is of the Self-aware variety which produces the calm out of which words (or actions) flow, to quote Patanjali's "Yoga Sutras," like oil from a drum.
The flow of action similarly can be either "mind-less" as when we get all caught up, avidly or in a panic, in the moment and lose Self-awareness entirely, or, there is a unitive energy flow in which the present Self is fully engaged, as in "one with," the action. A downhill skier or ice skater (or that type of action) would be a typical example where intensity of attention reflects both being "in control" (Self-aware) while the art, grace and responsive skill reflect the flow aspect. BOTH-AND!
As you can "see," the higher mindfulness in both cases is essentially the same. And, I might add, that should be no surprise because "oneness" has no "other."
Krishna states in the Bhagavad Gita that one cannot achieve the "actionless state" of Oneness by not acting (or by refusing to engage with life's demands, one's "karma," or one's legitimate duties). Stillness is the precursor to oneness. But stillness is not merely or not only the cessation of motion. It also includes the elimination of the ego principle, or to say it differently, the sense of "doer-ship" and the sense of separateness from the act (of perception) itself.
Just as playing a video game of race cars doesn't make the race cars real, so too our bodies and personalities are like vehicles which our higher Self uses to drive our Car-ma (Karma) around to complete the errands and lessons for which we incarnated. Just as too many car crashes in the video game will make the game end too soon and we a "loser" because of our lack of skill, so too must we learn how to drive our vehicle with precision and skill so we can complete the tasks we've been given as we grow towards enlightenment and freedom.
The regular practice of scientific meditation techniques which can take us to a deep and calm inner awareness are the most effective way to gradually transform ordinary "fight or fright" ego self-involvement into the state of calm confidence from which we can flow through daily life (including meditation) with greater and greater ease, naturalness, and harmony.
With practice we become aware that this state is not merely our own, but something greater. But trying to describe this in words is where experience ends and philosophy or belief enters. Both belief and philosophy are helpful, but neither should substitute for the only thing that really counts: the actual realization of this harmonic state of Being.
Thus, now, we return to the subject of mindfulness. Is it empty or is it full? To quote the woman saint, Ananda Moyi Ma (see "Autobiography of a Yogi" by Paramhansa Yogananda), "It IS; and yet, it ISN'T." In fact, there are times when it feels empty and times when emptiness is dynamic with latent potentiality; and, everything in between. "No-thing," sometimes described as Infinity, has neither form nor beginning nor an end, you see?
In many meditation traditions, the techniques taught involve various objects of contemplation, concentration, and meditation. Emptying the mind is just one of many techniques or goals of meditation. Stilling the conscious and subconscious flow of thoughts, mental images, and feelings is best accomplished, for many (if not most of us), by having an alternative focus rather than forcing by will or by relaxation the restless mind from doing what the ego and body-bound mind does best (which is to affirm and protect its separate identity).
It is no coincidence nor a mere mental trick that the usual "objects" of meditative concentration have their own attraction and often possess an innate psycho-physiological or vibrational power of their own. Examples include watching the breath, feeling the energy within the body, focusing on a mental image either abstract (light or sound) or personal (the guru or a deity), or, a mental repetition of a mantra, affirmation or prayer.
Here, then, we see yet another example of Krishna's advice: how the "action" of concentrating inwardly (combining intention and will with reverence and devotion) leads to the actionless, non-dual state of oneness. Merely "trying" to empty the mind, while certainly possessing worthwhile aspects, is more difficult for our over-stimulated, often toxic, stressed, and electrified (cell phones, computers, EMF's of all kinds) state of mind and body. We are accustomed to acting towards a goal and even if it must be admitted that the meditative state is not the kind of goal that is outside our self, like winning a promotion. Indeed, the state of oneness, sometimes called superconsciousness, is a state "realized" as always present at the still center of the the merry-go-round of ego involvement. Thus, Krishna's counsel remains as practical today as it was 3,ooo years ago.
Blessings and joy to you who is not, but simply IS I AM,
:-) Swami Hrimananda