The methodology of Mindfulness is one of the more fundamental aspects of our overall approach to life, since it invariably helps us to focus on the smaller nuances of everything we do – from the forces that drive us to act, to our intentions as they relate to our actions, as well as to enabling us to take a closer, objective look at our own emotions and thoughts in any given situation. This, then, allows us to perceive things about ourselves in a more active setting, hence allowing us to adapt to things we might consider negative (say, understanding that you feel stressed or angry), hence enabling us to avoid potentially problematic conditions that might adversely affect ourselves or others.
Simply put, Mindfulness is the state of living within the moment. Humans, as a rule, tend to direct significant amounts of energy and mental focus towards events that have occurred in the past (whether in the form of nostalgia or regret) and also towards anticipating the events that might occur in the future (not in any form of prescient manner, simply expecting that certain things will or might happen). When a person lives like this, inevitably they take away that level of focus from the events of the present moment, and hence never truly live within the moment – essentially, we place it within a context of being a point in time which relates to events that have past and events that will happen.
Let me give you an example. Imagine you are driving your car to work. Prior to undertaking this action, you choose to do so based on the knowledge that you’re due to be at work in half an hour, and you’ll be late if you walk or cycle, so driving is essentially the only way you’ll get there. You get in the car, close the door, put on your seatbelt, put the keys in the ignition, and off you go. Now, why did you get in the car? Did you do it because you need to go to work, or are you doing it because you want to drive?
We all have to perform actions that involve decisions made in the past that will have consequences for the future, but very rarely do we act independently of either. Essentially, you are performing an action in order to do something you decided in the past or in order to do something else in the future. Using a famous example, when washing the dishes, you’re not washing the dishes for their own sake, you’re doing so because you’ve finished eating dinner (in the past) and because you want to sit down and watch something on television afterwards (in the future). This is not mindful action, because you are essentially acting on something outside of the moment. If you wash dishes, do so to wash dishes. If you drive your car, do so not because you’re going to work, but because you can drive and therefore are. It’s fine to keep in mind the fact that you’re going to watch television later or that you’re going to work, but don’t perform the actions leading up to that because of this foreknowledge.
Mindfulness, then, is the state of coming to realise your motives for acting, the intent by which you then act, and whether or not your actions are in keeping with the latter two. It is, if you will, a state wherein an individual actively probes their own mind in the moment to ascertain what they are doing, and why – it is a point of intense internal focus.
Let’s go back to our earlier examples. You’re driving to work, or rather, driving with the intent of going to work. The act of driving is the result of the intent to drive in order to go to work not the result of the intent of going to work. Sounds pedantic, doesn’t it? Perhaps, but it is an important distinction. Why? Because one is acting mindfully, understanding your motives for an action, while the other is unmindful, a mistaken understanding – getting ahead of the intent to act as a result of the end consequences of acting.
Why do we focus on this? Well, essentially, it is a way of being self-regulating – learning to recognise the factors within your own mind that influences all your decisions, thus bringing them under your control, so you can decide how and when to act upon them. In the case of our example, you know that you have a limited amount of time to get to work before you are late. Understanding this, you decide that the best way to get there is to drive. Stop there. Now you have to break apart this notion that you must act into motive force and intent. Although I’ll explain this in more detail a little further on, this needs to be quickly given some thought. Your intent is to drive. It is not to drive to work – that’s a combination of intent and consequence: performing an action in order to ensure that the desired outcome occurs. The motive force behind your action is to get to work – hence, the end result of whatever action you take in order to ensure this result.
We do this because, over time, you’ll come to realise that the motivation to act to provoke a particular consequence is not the same as the intention simply to act. What it boils down to is this: an understanding of personal choice. There is never any such thing as having no choice – what a person means when they say something like that is that they disliked the consequences of acting in the manner contrary to the way in which they did act. Whenever you perform an action, you do so because you have made a decision to do so. You cannot control this unless you understand the mechanisms behind it – this is the major function of Mindfulness.
Let’s discuss this in greater detail by looking at the manner in which one comes to a decision, before I explain more about choices.
The first step in the decision-making process is that of the application of a motive force. When a person decides upon an action and moves to perform that action, inevitably they have been driven to do so by some force – whether internal or external. This is, essentially, the reasoning behind their action – I am performing this action because of this reason. Back to our earlier example, you are engaged in the act of driving because it is the only way you can get to work on time. That’s a motive force.
Some Jedi Realists have spoken of the notion of being led to do something by the Force. Putting aside the notion that I don’t personally agree that a field of energy can compel people to act in the way that such individuals seem to indicate (through a communication of a conscious desire that they wish that individual to fulfil), this is both naïve and irresponsible, since it is suggesting that they have acted by being compelled by an external force. This is an abhorable notion: any decision-making process starts and ends with you. Regardless of the influences that might have been exerted to help you make your decision, it is your decision – so, you can choose to act based on the pressures of these motive forces, or not, as you decide.
Say you work for a bank. Somebody comes in and pulls out a gun, saying that if you don’t open the safe (or vault etc) and give them the money contained therein, they will shoot either you or someone else in the bank. Does this mean that your decision is inevitably the responsibility of the individual holding you at gunpoint? Certainly he’s providing you with a good incentive to do as he demands, but inevitably it is you who must make the decision as to whether or not to give him the money. The excuse that you were under duress does not excuse the fact that you, personally, made the decision to hand over that money – the decision, as with the consequences, are thus your responsibility.
Understanding your motive forces, then, is a great asset when it comes to acting within the moment. Essentially, when you understand the motives that drive you, you will be able to see where those motives are wrong or impulsive (or just contrary to the state of mind you seek to obtain) and thus readjust your stance to compensate for this.
I think it will be necessary to play with our demonstration a little more, so you gain a clear idea of what I’m talking about.
An individual comes into the bank and threatens you with a gun: they will shoot you if you don’t give them all of the money to which you have access.
Possible Courses of Action:
Give the individual the money as instructed
Desire for personal safety
Desire to thwart attempt of the individual involved
Possible Underlying Motives
Consideration for the safety of others around you
Possibility that the individual might shoot you regardless of whether you comply or resist
The possibility of a reward if you resist long enough for someone to intervene
Sheer stubbornness in the face of adversity
Now, the question here is this: which course of action do you therefore take? If you choose to resist, are your motives for resisting good enough to justify risking your own safety, or that of another person? Of the four possible underlying motives, only the first motive is really all that justifiable as far as our code of ethics goes – the concern for the safety of others should be the first and foremost reason for acting. If we take the second motive, if it is possible that the individual might simply shoot you anyway, what reason do you have for not acting? You might get shot either way. If you act passively, without resisting, you might not be shot. If you resist, you’re far more likely to be shot. This being the case, you would be foolish to resist, since it is very possible that complying will prevent anyone from being shot.
As for the possibility of a reward, that is a frivolous concern when compared to the safety of yourself and, more importantly of others – to act based on that motive is to do so based on the desire for personal gain, rather than because it was the right thing to do. The fourth motive, if acted upon, would be a simple demonstration of both a complete lack of humility, as well as a gross disrespect for your own safety and that of others – resisting simply because you are stubborn is not sufficient reason to justify putting a life in danger – yours or that of anyone else.
Let me put that into perspective: if the individual holding you at gunpoint were, instead, holding someone hostage, threatening to shoot them instead of you if you failed to comply, would stubbornness be sufficient motive to justify resistance? Not likely.
This needs to be given some significant thought – when you consider your motive forces, for whom are you acting? What are the possible consequences to others? Is there a possibility whereby you can compromise so you act as you feel you must, while at the same time not causing harm to others? I should note that, at this stage, all you want to weigh up are your reasons for potentially acting – in this scenario, what factors might encourage you to act (comply or physically resist), or not to act (fail to comply by passively resisting)? If you fail to weigh up the motive forces for your actions, you essentially are acting purely upon impulse – the results of which could cause harm to either yourself or to others. Regardless, you will have some impact on the situation, and will have to deal with the inevitable consequences of your end decision.
The next factor within the decision-making process is emotions. In many circumstances, you won’t act based completely on rational objectivity – although this is what we all, as Jedi Realists, aspire towards, both prior to the beginning of training and during the course of it, there are times when the process of choosing the appropriate course of action will inevitably be influenced by the presence of subjective emotional concerns within your own mind. Thus, to be appropriately mindful, you need to learn to understand how emotions factor into this process in any given situation.
Emotions are, sometimes, extremely difficult to understand, but in order to ensure that they don’t adversely affect the decision that you make, it becomes necessary to control them. Although this is better discussed in the appropriate section on emotional methodology, inevitably, if a decision is influenced by emotion, it is not necessarily going to be the right decision, meaning there might very well be negative or undesired consequences as a result of acting in a particular manner.
Hence, it becomes necessary to be mindful of your own emotions – whether you sense them as they are coming into being, or when they have already developed and begun to have an affect on your psyche. It is always best to catch them beforehand, since this enables you to better restrain them where appropriate, but when this fails, it is necessary to ensure that you do at least perceive them before you act, so that you can factor the influence they might have into the decision-making process.
A good example of this is when you are having an argument with someone – say, a housemate or a member of your family. I should note here that by ‘argument’, I don’t necessarily mean to indicate a negative action, but simply a point whereby two or more parties with opposing beliefs/ideas/opinions etc conflict with one another – whether in the form of a discussion, a debate or an all-out shouting match. To begin with, this could start out as a friendly disagreement, but as you continue to argue deeper and deeper into this, you may either start feeling positive or negative, depending on how you are doing (winning or losing the argument). Of course, if neither of these is beginning to occur (ever feel like you’re talking to a brick wall?), you might also start feeling frustrated.
Most people aren’t aware of how they are feeling until they have either fully expressed themselves, or, if they are indeed aware, aren’t giving thought to the consequences of their actions should they then express those emotions. This is where Mindfulness comes in. If you feel you are winning and start feeling positive (possible sense of superiority), most of the time you’ll feel good about yourself and keep pushing against your opponent to batter down their remaining defences – you’ve managed to open enough of a gap in their argument to allow you to open it entirely and exploit it in full. This is dangerous, because as you feel yourself pushing, you’re inevitably going to start causing harm to the person you are arguing against, by making them feel negative about themselves – this in itself might lead to frustration, bitterness etc, none of which are desirable.
Switching to the reverse position, if you are beginning to lose an argument, you can begin to get angry or frustrated at the very least, which causes you to feel as if you are being attacked personally, and you therefore respond in kind. And, here, you find arguments becoming very personal – because one is the victor, pressing their case until the other capitulates to their argument, while the other person is on the defensive, trying to regain their ground. If you move back to motive forces, you’ll find this is all generated by a singular emotion: pride.
But that, however, is not quite the point at hand. What matters here is that both parties have allowed their emotions to influence their decision-making process at some point, to some extent and are, as a result, degenerating into the point wherein they are both expressing these to the detriment of the other person. The most appropriate way to remove yourself from this situation is to do one of the following:
Calm down the person you are arguing with, helping them to release their tension and, thus, tone down the argument to something a little less heated
Remove yourself physically from the argument
Admit to yourself and your opponent that you’re either losing (if on the defensive) or going nowhere (since, even when you’re winning, likely they no longer care about the merits of your argument), and tensions should evaporate immediately.
The only reason to continue the argument is that you are being driven by the motive force of pride – you don’t wish to concede your case, or you wish to force your opponent to concede theirs.
This is a very real example of how mindfulness of your own emotions can maintain equilibrium within what can easily turn into a hostile situation, harming both you and others as a result of emotional expression.
Intentions and Actions
Finally we come down to the application of motive forces and emotions, in the form of intentions and actions. Generally speaking, if a person has a particular intention, they prefer to see that they follow it through without hindrance, so that they can progress onto the next action they intent (washing dishes so that they might watch television, for example). Thus, we gain a string of intentions put into sequence. Having intentions is a perfectly normal thing – if nobody had intentions, we wouldn’t likely have gotten very far as a species. The only reason you are reading this is because you intended to do so. The only reason I am writing this is because I intend to enable you to read it. And so on. From your intention of reading this, you have acted upon that intention and are, therefore, reading these lines.
However, people are not necessarily always aware of their own intentions, in the conscious sense, as they translate into actions. That in itself might seem somewhat strange to you, since if you want to go and get something to eat, for example, surely the motive force that is influencing you (hunger, in this case) would therefore allow you to make a decision (going to get something to eat versus not doing so) and therefore, you formulate an intention (I am going to go and get something to eat). All pretty logical in a progressive way. This doesn’t necessarily follow in a direct sense, however.
Often, what a person intends to being with will therefore cloud their ability to adapt in a situation. The difference between intention and action comes when this occurs. Sometimes you can do exactly as was described above – have an intention and therefore act upon it to the conclusion you have naturally formed to enable this to be so. Hence, we obtain the following:
Motive Force > Decision to Act > Intention > Action > Result
However, if you are mindful of your intentions, you can also be mindful of your own actions as well. Let’s use an example.
Mindfulness of my own motive forces has told me that I am hungry. I can determine this because my stomach is rumbling, which is a biological indication of the need for some form of nutrients. Therefore, based on that understanding, and also upon the knowledge that not easting would be more inconvenient (and possibly painful) than eating would be, I therefore arrive at the decision that I must eat. I therefore intend to go into the kitchen and make myself a sandwich. I intend to make a sandwich so therefore I shall. Having gone into the kitchen, I find I have no bread. Hardly helpful, right, given that sandwiches have bread as a prerequisite. So, my intention can no longer be matched by an action – I intended to make a sandwich, but I can’t actually make one, because I have no bread. If I want to satisfy the intention, I’ll have to first go and buy some bread (setting off yet another decision-making process).
So, I intended one thing but was unable to act upon that intention. I therefore did not act upon the decision and also did not act upon my motive force, because I was being stubborn towards my intentions: I’d decided I was going to have a sandwich and, since I could not, I therefore didn’t eat for a few hours, until I had the resources available to act on my original intentions. My intent was sound, but I could not act upon it. What I did not allow for was a little flexibility in my intention.
It would have been better to do the following: I am hungry; therefore I shall go into the kitchen and make something to eat. Pedantic as though that sounds, it is nonetheless a better intention, because it provides for flexibility. I am mindful of the fact that I may not be able to act on the intent to eat a sandwich (if I factor in the desire to eat a sandwich as a provisional intention), so I shall instead act on the intention of eating something. This allows me to provide for problems that might arise in the process of making a sandwich (like not having any bread).
So, if you form an intention, allowing yourself to be mindful of the possibilities that intention will create, you can thus be prepared to act upon any deviation on your circumstances, rather than upon your intent alone. This is a more practical and systematic form of Mindfulness.
Once you have learned to focus yourself in the moment, using this technique here, you then need to establish a criteria for assessing yourself in situations, thus, to determine your motive forces, intentions and how these then relate to potential actions, in addition to factoring in emotional concerns etc. This will inevitably become easier over time, but it takes a lot of practice to get it right.
Thus, I have drawn up a basic criterion that you can use to this end that will help. You can inevitably create your own, if you feel so inclined. Just consider this a guideline.
Take a moment (split seconds to a few minutes, depending on how much you’ve practised) to ascertain your basic situation – just the basic details of your circumstances.
What was your first thought or impulse upon having arrived in this situation?
What motive forces might have created that thought or impulse?
Having considered these, can you formulate a course of action appropriate to your circumstances?
This completed, can you make a definite decision?
Having made a decision, what therefore is your direct intent?
Can your extrapolated intent be represented by your actions?
If not, trace your steps backward and ascertain either where your intentions are incorrect or whether you can perform an action if you modify the nature of your intentions (think about the intention of having a sandwich as opposed to any sort of food).
Remember, it is important, while doing this, to factor in your ethical tendencies, physical abilities and the possible variables in the situation that are not under your control, and be sure to account for them in your decision-making process, so that they don’t adversely affect the end result, or indeed, prevent you from acting as a result of the failure to factor them in.