Unravelling Mindfulness: A Conversation
“Hope becomes alive when we are embodied”. – Pooja Agarwal.
Mindfulness is a way or an effort of paying active and open attention to the present. Being in the moment. In this state one observes their thoughts and feelings without judging them, either as good or bad. Not dwelling on the past and not worrying about the future, just living in the moment and being present is what it means to practice mindfulness. Our therapists, Ruhi Sameena and Pooja Agarwal, came together to unravel the mysteries behind the term mindfulness and how it can be political and intersectional. They started their journey towards mindfulness at Pause for Perspective together as interns. Now they both lead mindfulness based symptom management programs at Pause for Perspective. Here are a few questions they answered.
The term ‘mindfulness’ is being used a lot. It is being associated with well-being, wellness, peace and tranquility, and sorts of happiness as well. Keeping all this in mind, in simple terms, how or what does mindfulness really look like?
Pooja says that when talking about mindfulness, there can be so many ways to describe it. But keeping it simple, “it’s about coming back to noticing what is occurring in the moment. Just constantly coming back to noticing what is occurring in the here and now, in my body, in my emotions, in my sensations, in my thoughts, in the world. The intentional awareness to notice.”
Ruhi agrees and adds that it is about bringing back oneself to what is present. “A constant process of bringing ourselves back to the body, emotions, sensations and thoughts. It is also being aware about how this is a constant process, a back and forth process, that we do during that moment to moment awareness. Also being able to locate the context that we live in. There is flexibility to self in going back and cultivating that moment to moment awareness. Our larger goals seem to be to have access to — What do I really want for self?” Pooja carries on by saying that sitting in the practice of coming back, to noticing, is what allows us to access our own hopes. Ruhi goes a little deeper by asking: What does that awareness, that noticing, looks like? “Awareness”, says Pooja, “is, of course, about what is present in the here and now, but it is also about where you are located in the context that we live in, the world that we live in. Peace and tranquility is often talked about these days with people and because of the world that we live in, of the human experience, what we notice is often a multitude of things. There is peace and there is tranquility, but there are also moments of awareness that are painful, so awareness encompasses a multitude of experiences”.
When we talk about mindfulness, we often picture a person sitting in a meditative posture in some part of Himalaya with a certain quietness. Is meditation only a part of mindfulness or is there something else, along with it, that mindfulness talks about?
Pooja responds by saying that mindfulness can be accessible to us at any point of our day. While there is an idea of it: meditating in a peaceful environment where everything aligns perfectly, the right kind of environment, the right kind of space one is in, Mindfulness is mostly about simply noticing and it can occur in a variety of ways. So, meditation does become an important aspect of cultivating and practicing mindfulness but it’s not the only aspect. What we open into when we start practicing mindfulness is how complex our experience is and the various things we can become aware of. That encompasses pleasant, unpleasant, neutral and all sorts of experiences.
“Mindfulness can be the moments in the day when we are coming back to noticing the sounds of traffic around me and noticing the irritation it causes in my body. Mindfulness can just be me taking a breath, and noticing it, if I need to center myself in the moment. Mindfulness can be any of these brief moments that I am noticing that are occurring in the here and now, intentionally. So, yes, it is accessible in ways that are beyond meditation, beyond that one experience of peace and quiet and silence in a perfect environment”.
Ruhi agrees and adds that mindfulness is about having access and it is accessible on a regular basis on a moment to moment basis. It is about intentionally bringing awareness to what is present, awareness about the here and now. It could be about anything, about the sounds around us, the touch around us, the sight around us. These are the little informal ways of coming back to cultivating that mindful way of being, apart from just sitting in a meditative posture.
How do you see mindfulness as a part of your life? How is it accessible in personal life as well as when you see clients?
Mindfulness, for Pooja, has become essential to her work and her life. Practicing meditation is one of the ways in which mindfulness has become important to her. Practicing the informal ways of setting intentions, of coming back, checking with her body, her emotions and sensations. Using anchors to help her come back when she finds herself going into spaces that become unhelpful. “What this has allowed for me is just being able to open and hold space for all sorts of experiences, with the people that I work with, to be able to hold experiences of sorrow, despair, joy, celebration and confusion. This is one way in which mindfulness has become very central for me. To just be able to make space for the human experience”. Another thing that Pooja says she takes from mindfulness is compassion. Being able to hold all of this in compassion, is hard and not always possible.
This reminds Ruhi of her own experience of coming back. She remembers it being a back and forth process, not always being rosy and having moments of unpleasantness. “That bit of compassion and wisdom cultivates when you are aware of your being, your body, emotions, sensations and thoughts. This really gives you access to really look into the question ‘Now what do I want to do about this awareness?’” She goes on to say that this question itself informs about a lot of hope for self and others, and to have access to that hope, to those snippets of mindful moments on a regular basis is momentous and powerful.
Is mindfulness political? How do you see it being intersectional?
Yes, mindfulness is political, says Pooja. It is important to know about the history of mindfulness. It does come from the Buddhist philosophy and teachings. But it has been taken to the west, psychologized and become a modality in psychology. It is important to understand that just like other aspects of psychology, mindfulness can be seen as something that is neutral. But it is not. Mindfulness takes a very clear stand in multiple ways. For instance, it takes a clear stand of compassion. One cannot practice compassion without taking a stand for compassion. One is always coming back to holding their experiences, and others’ experiences, with compassion and with awareness that suffering is there and that we want to be able to help. Come together in ways that help alleviate it.
“Mindfulness takes a very clear stand of listening to the body. The entire practice of mindfulness is of coming back to building a relationship with our bodies, which in itself can be very political. Especially when we live in a world where we are almost removed from our bodies, where timelines are put on us and ways of being are put on us. Whereas mindfulness is inviting us into practicing ‘what is my body saying?’ and ‘what is happening in my experience?’ And once when we are aware of this then we become aware of identity locations.”
Practicing mindfulness in itself is political and it helps one notice in ways in which politics and intersectionality play out in their lives. The constant back and forth process helps one recognize what’s happening. The kind of presence mindfulness allows one to gain access to is a presence that allows one to see the ways in which the world works, ways in which various identities intersect. It doesn’t allow one to be ignorant of their locations.
The thoughts that “I am not good enough” come from a context that we live in and mindfulness helps or allows us to understand where these negative thoughts come from. When we practice mindfulness we notice there moment to moment experiences. At Pause for Perspective our ideology is that individuals are not regarded or seen as the issue. It is the multiple layers of the system that we live in which might be influencing the way we function. Listen to our therapists, Pooja and Ruhi, as they talk about mindfulness and discuss the question ‘What do I really want?’, in our podcast, ‘A Little More Closer’, which is a series of conversations where our therapists talk about issues or problems faced by people form a systematic lens and not from an individualistic lens.
Transcribed by our writer