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Defining Mindfulness

Mindfulness Teacher and Author of Into The Heart of Mindfulness

IP Interview
Published on April 30, 2020

Why is this interview interesting?

  • Mindfulness as a way of paying attention to our lived experience: knowing what's happening and acting on that learning
Executive Bio

Ed Halliwell

Mindfulness Teacher and Author of Into The Heart of Mindfulness

Ed is a UK-based mindfulness teacher. He has written three books: Into The Heart of Mindfulness, Mindfulness: How To Live Well By Paying Attention (published in a new edition as Mindfulness Made Easy) and (as co-author) The Mindful Manifesto. He is an associate of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre and Sussex Mindfulness Centre, and regularly speaks on mindfulness-related topics, in the media and at conferences, festivals and other events. He leads public mindfulness courses, workshops and retreats in London, Surrey and Sussex, and has introduced and taught mindfulness in workplaces such as Accenture, UNICEF UK, Imperial College Business School, and the Houses of Parliament.

Interview Transcript

Ed, a warm welcome. If we could begin with your definition of mindfulness?

I can give you a definition of mindfulness, not necessarily mine. The simplest definition that I like to use is, knowing what’s happening and learning from it and, perhaps, acting on that learning. Mindfulness, really, is a way of paying attention to our lived experience. That’s the knowing what’s happening part. The trickiness of that is that, much of the time, we are not trained to pay attention to what’s going on. Our minds are elsewhere; our minds may be wandering into habitual places. Those habitual places are often thought-based. We spend a lot of our time up in our heads and trying to achieve goals, meet standards; trying to get what’s good and avoid what’s bad. That’s a perfectly reasonable way to live our lives and that mode of mind, I would call a driven doing mode of mind, because much of the way that it operates is automatic. We are evolved to try to get what’s good and avoid what’s bad.

As I said, it’s a very sensible way of living our lives. If, for example, we have a tiger coming to try to eat us or, perhaps, we want to get our next meal. From a survival perspective, that mode of mind is very skillful. However, there are situations, particularly in our modern world, where we can’t simply just get what we want and we can’t simply just avoid what we don’t want. In those situations, understanding how we operate as human beings is very, very useful because it can help us see the ways that we act on habit-driven autopilot. It can give us the understanding, or at least a window, into ways of responding to these kind of situations differently.

There you have the second part of the definition, which is learning from our lived experience, that we are now paying attention to it, not on automatic pilot, in order to meet the moments of our lives in a skillful way. That’s quite a long explanation of what, I hope, is a simple definition.

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