Beware: Your mind is in gear when Mindful!

Mar 14, 2019

Being mindful expecting the mind to be still is like shifting your car into gear with engine running expecting it to stay stationary.
Ram Ramanathan
Founder, Coacharya

Many Mindfulness practitioners come to me saying that they are more stressed than when they started. I ask them about their expectations. They start with stress and anxiety reduction.  I then ask how they would have perceived the reduced stress. They say peace of mind or stillness.

Unfortunately mindfulness, as defined, taught and practiced is about sensory awareness of the mind that gets the mind moving rather than stationary. Holding a raisin in your hands, looking at it in a focused manner, rolling your fingers over it touching it tenderly, raising it to your nostrils to smell it and then placing it on your tongue to taste it, leaves only in sense not engaged.

The first time I attended a mindfulness program I asked the trainer whether I should try hearing the raisin as well, as it seemed to me that I was missing an important sensory perception. She was not amused, quite upset actually; not very mindful of her.

Engaging the senses engages our conditioned memory, of raisins and other edibles before setting the mind in motion, sometimes even emotionally. There are trainers who ask you to visualize slicing a juicy lemon and exclaim along with you in wonder when you salivate. It is merely a conditioned reflex with you playing Pavlov’s dog!

Engaging the mind is what stresses us in the first place. It is our mind’s perception of a situation or object, not the situation or object themselves, which creates stress in us. Reframing this perception or better still disengaging from the root cause of the perception would help relieve the stress, not delving into the stress mindfully as a focus.

When I came in contact with mindfulness concepts in the eighties I was quite familiar with meditation through various pathways of raja yoga, TM, Zen and others. Most of them relied on a mantra or a thought to induce the meditative state. I then trained as a healer in which process I learned to disengage from the thought and action of healing. A researcher tested my brain wave pattern to verify whether I was in alpha state as befits a meditative healer. He declared that I was not meditating since my brain wave pattern exceeded the instruments higher limit of 20 hertz!

Twenty years later another researcher measured me in 35 to 40 Hertz range declaring me to in active gamma wave meditation in line with findings of Herbert Benson. During this period I had undergone Vipassana meditation programs and learnt about the Fourth State of disengaged ‘mindless’ awareness of the Mandukya Upanishad and the No Mind ‘sunya’ state of Buddhism. These ‘mindless’ practices made a lot more sense to me to me than mindful ones.

The term ‘mindfulness’ is not from Buddhism. It is an inadequate translation of the Pali word sati, which along with its Sanskrit equivalent of smriti, both meaning memory, has a limiting connotation. Buddha spoke of Right Memory in the context of letting memories go so as to be free of the vagaries of the mind. Focus of the latter half of Ashtanga Yoga, internal yoga, is on moving away from memory, the senses and thoughts to the disengaged state of ‘samadhi’ based on practices that start with sensory focus. Practices of yoga nidra and vipassana are excellent pathways that start with mind and body awareness leading to a state of awareness beyond mind and body, one of energy.

Mindlessness is a far higher state of awareness that starts with mindful practice. To reach mindlessness mindfulness, the initial awareness of what mind and body are doing is needed. Paraphrasing Swami Vivekananda, starting with mindfulness is good, but not ending with it.

A toddler is mindful when starting to walk, aware of each step, mindful. Once mastered there is no more thought of how to place one foot in front of the other. Following the earlier analogy of an automobile, a learner driver is mindful of coordinating the pedals, the steering wheel and objects on the road. Once mastered, one drives in the unmindful zone, mindless of what one is doing.

Mindfulness takes us from unconscious incompetence to conscious competence. Mindlessness is the last mile that takes into the peak zone of unconscious competence.

Ram Ramanathan, MCC
Ram Ramanathan, MCC


Ram is the Founder and a Principal at Coacharya. As the resident Master and mentor coach, Ram oversees and conducts all aspects of coaching and training services offered under the Coacharya banner.

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