A friend of mine, upon seeing Mindful Moment's Facebook update on our Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program, sent me an image along with a cheeky question: which version are you teaching?
The image, which you may have seen before since it is commonly featured on mindfulness-related websites and social media, is a drawing of a man taking a walk with his dog along a row of leafy green trees and a big warm sun shining from above; there is a thought bubble above the man's head, showing that his mind is filled with thoughts about work, communications, tasks, traveling, etc.; and then there is another thought bubble above the dog's head, showing the exact scene they are in - the row of leafy green trees and the big warm sun shining from above. And then the big question on the image asks the viewer: Mindful, or Mind Full?
It is not difficult to understand from the image that despite taking a walk in a lovely environment, the man is miles away caught up in his own train of thoughts about everything other than the beautiful scenery around him - his mind is full. The dog, on the other hand, is noticing his immediate environment as he walks - aware of the trees he is passing by, and the warmth of the sun - it is being mindful of its surroundings.
My friend understood that, and his tongue-in-cheek question was, which version does a mindfulness teacher teach in an MBSR class? Mindful, or Mind Full?
I answered: Actually, both!
It is without a doubt that participants learn to be mindful in a mindfulness class - during practices we work really hard to pay attention to the present moment, instead of allowing the mind to be pulled away by the past or the future. But through practicing mindfulness, we might find that there is also a lot to learn from paying attention to a mind that is full!
What happens when the mind is constantly overloaded with checklists, to-dos, and tasks to complete? Or when the mind is playing an upsetting event that had happened over and over again? Or when the mind loops questions about uncertainties, or when it frequently airs an unpleasantly critical, judgmental voice?
Through practice, we might discover that the mind virtually never stops, and is almost always full, or at least filled with something. Even though we frequently hear the advice: "Clear your mind" or "Empty your mind", we can be sure that this "emptiness" we are hoping for as a relief from the never-ending busyness of life will not last beyond a moment before the mind begins to be filled up again. It is equally important for mindfulness practice, then, to train the mind to be mindful of the present moment, and also be mindful of the mind that is full.
It is worth highlighting here that it is not enough to ponder over the "Mindful or Mind Full" question as an intellectual exercise. Only personal experience from engaging in mindfulness practices can bring us true insights and discoveries into the nature of the mind. And I invite you to further explore this with mindfulness training.
Click here to find out the latest dates of our next Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program.