Usually, mindfulness and meditation practitioners miss clarity about what is being taken care of in our inside experience and what is being trained inside our brain. This clarity is important because it helps to understand our practice from the roots, becoming a key learning which will later improve and direct the practice.
Mindfulness and meditation train our mind in three complementary characteristics: attention, intention, and attitude. And we mean these as we mean that we learn a language from different perspectives – like reading, listening, and speaking – or we exercise our body at different perspectives – elasticity, strength, flexibility, and resistance.
So maybe you also notice this important thing about you (in fact, about we humans): we always have inside us (like an inner energy) and around us (like if it was a dressing) this hard-to-see thing which is “a mixed of attention, intention, and attitude”. What happens is that this “a-i-a mix” arrives to us slowly in life through vastly different sources and that we embody it automatically, without noticing that it is here and that it is fully conditioning our experience.
Even if it feels hard to understand now, let me share that the one key thing that we want from mindfulness and meditation is the ability to exit this automatic pilot – the automatic pilot of these “a-i-a mix” – and enter into freedom of choice – the freedom of choice of these “a-i-a mix” – so as being able to get full control of our inner experience – these “a-i-a mix” – and manage it so as get them better serve our goals in life.
Oh, I can see! Sorry if I confused you! I am writing these “a-i-a mix” as if it were something very well-known but it is not. I maybe should have told you this before, but if I am writing it like this is because I would like that you remember these “a-i-a mix” forever on so it becomes something important that you and me already know and that we can share with others.
But let us reflect around them by playing with where these words appear in our daily life:
- Attention is a word that we easily tied to our senses, mainly to our sight, but also to the smell, hearing, taste, or touch. We ask for other’s attention when we want to share. We deny other’s our attention when we do not want to feed whatever their behavior. Maybe you remember that children’s game of withdrawing attention and how difficult it felt. Or how disturbing is when those around do not offer us their attention because they are fully hooked to a screen (may it be a TV screen in adults or a palm-sized screen in teenagers).
- Intention is a word that helps us share what is that we intimately want to achieve with our actions. We feel it especially important when it is not clear for us, as in the way we reject “double intention” or we fell the threatening of “hidden intentions”. Also, we usually feel moved by people with beautiful intentions, like “heal the children” or “feed the poor”, intentions that we receive deeply touching when the person openly makes a lifelong commitment to it (like nuns do).
- Attitude comes more as a word that gives quality to an action, like “opening” something. We can open a door slowly, with care, not willing to disturb anybody around or we can open a door impulsively, with a strong push, not caring at all about others neither the impact of our action on them. These we say is “our attitude when opening the door” and it helps to understand how we are relating with others and with life. In our daily life, good attitudes usually refer to those that help others and life, while bad attitude usually refer to those that build difficulty for others and life. These “good/bad attitude” is very easily received by children and pets maybe because they know their weakness and need their feelings regarding other’s attitudes to help in the survival game.
So, this very key thing that we want from mindfulness – exiting automatic pilot and entering freedom – demands that we can observe this “i-a-i mix” as they are in order to be able to choose on them. This self-observing is usually referred to as “meta-attention”, which is our inner capacity to observe our own attention, intention, and attitude. It is also referred as “awareness” as it means to become aware of our attention, our intention, and our attitude.
Even if we explore these deeply in next articles, let me jump in with some clear goals that will easily help to ground all these in the mindfulness framework, as mindfulness trains the “a-i-a mix” in the following direction:
- More attention to the present moment so you can see more, you can listen more, you can taste more, and you can feel more.
- Intention of love, specially compassion and gratitude: find different ways to help when suffering is present, and embody joy and celebration of life when it is not.
- Attitude of curiosity and loving kindness, non-judgmentally, compassionately and with care, an attitude which is open to better understand, open to learn new things, open to interact more respectful (hint: this “open” is as important as needed in life).
I would like to keep talking about these in quite different directions, but not today. Nevertheless, let me write some words that could make a beautiful reflection – like monk, samurai, geisha, or sumo – or remember Daniel Kahneman’s extraordinary work (of system 1 and system 2) to conclude that this is about system 2 doing a sanity check, a life maintenance, and a healthy update of system 1.
By the way, these “a-i-a mix” – which I remember once more that responds to “attention-intention-attitude mix” – when dress-up with love to serve life and the common good is also sometimes referred to as “consciousness”, like in “conscious parenting, conscious leadership, or conscious sexuality”, although most of the people use it without actually knowing its meaning neither how to cultivate it.