Mindfulness seems to be quite the thing at present, with numerous articles about how it can enhance health, well being and happiness as well as make the tea, do the ironing and check you turned the cat off and put the gas out for the night*. Indeed, while many make extraordinary suggestions about what it can do, the research evidence for what mindfulness may and may not actually do is growing.
Which is all very well and good. Yet, even for me, a practitioner and real friend of mindfulness, all this talking it up creates an internal tension when I read it. For one thing, I don't have a cat and neither does my household run on gas****. For another, and more seriously, I think that making claims about what you might get from mindfulness is very tricky indeed.
At one level, if there is any activity that is expressly not about achieving something, getting somewhere or doing anything bigger, better, faster or more, it's mindfulness. So to wrap this practice in terms of bringing any particular state or achievement, feels somehow antithetical, and may even throw a practical spanner into the works.
Mindfulness, an another level, is just about being mindful - of things going on around, in, about and including ourselves, and just that. A bare experiencing of all "this", with nothing (or as little as possible, anyway) added on top. That means being in any state in which we find ourselves - tired and ratty as much as happy and creative, for example. And being mindful of those conditions is by no means easy, by no means at all. As zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck put it, it can be a triumph just to sit there for 15 minutes.
So any suggestion that this practice will yield particular results, or that it will be a bed of roses should be treated with caution. And yet, interesting things do seem to happen; things that would be described in very positive terms and, after all, even the most experienced begin practice out of an awareness that things aren't stacked up quite the way they would like them. So, likewise, the claim that mindfulness practice does nothing at all should be treated with caution.
So, what ought we to believe about mindfulness? I think the wisest option is nothing at all. Really. Simply to do it. Not seeking anything, not trying to push anything away, just being mindful.
Now if only we could master that!
*Well, OK, so there are fewer** claims about the tea, ironing, cats and gas but you get the point, anyway
** When I say fewer, I mean none***, of course.
***That I know of, anyway.
**** See the first asterisk in the text...is this too many asterisks now?