Andrew Huberman has talked about mindfulness and meditation, usually trying hard not to use the words. I thought I understood why—the desire to avoid any baggage that comes with those words. So just rename the practices, and begin with baby-step, sanitized explanations, right? But my assessment doesn't quite map onto the backstory.
As it turns out, Huberman didn't understand mindfulness until this podcast. In this episode with Sam Harris (and here it is with time stamps), you see that a neuroscientist with one of the most popular podcasts on the planet, who has instructed people in "perceptual exercises," uses that term because that's all the "exercises" were to him. He didn't know what mindfulness could do or what it was for until this discussion.
And if Andrew Huberman didn't know, odds are he's not alone . . .
You can use mindfulness as a tool for focus that helps with convergent thinking, but that's not really the point. It's not about adding something to your experience or fixing it, but about noticing it—noticing thoughts (we call them mental events, as sometimes images travel with thoughts), sensations, emotions, and sound. Andrew Huberman, real-time on this podcast, realizes he's been living in a myth (and not just about mindfulness—about what life is and what the "self" is).
Yes, you can alter the contents of your consciousness . . .
You can notice that your state can use a boost. You can boost it rather than riding it out and watching as whatever is present dissolves and falls away.
Yes, there are practices that change how you feel . . .
From gratitude to lovingkindness to savoring to walking to awe to connection to getting out in nature, there's a dozen practices that have been shown to boost well-being and I teach all of them (and include the research).
But the most powerful one is doing nothing.
The most powerful practice is fully locating your sense of well-being in the present moment, and as Harris comments, "not being hostage to the circumstances of your life."
What about happiness?
As I've written previously and in my book, happiness isn't something I focus on. I'm not sure I even understand it, but the closest I come is resonating with Harris when he notes, "it's possible to be miserable having everything one could possibly want, and it's possible to have practically nothing and be beaming with joy. Your happiness isn't predicated on the next good thing happening."
The How of "Waking Up"
Harris has a wonderful app called Waking Up where he invites scholars and other experts to share their wisdom and practices.
The how of waking up to your life (please note that "waking up" has long been used in mindfulness) is a matter of opening awareness to everything that shows up, without judging, naming, thinking about, pushing away, or grasping at it. If you've taken a class with me, you probably recall it was the most difficult of the practices. For most people, even the idea of it is difficult to grasp. Here's a quick practice.
Running, Painting, and Gardening Won't Teach You Mindfulness, Nor Will Flow Experiences
However, once you understand mindfulness, it's clear that it can be part of anything and everything. Running doesn't teach you mindfulness, but once you've learned it, you can mindfully run—you can practice while running. You might find yourself spending all day practicing. And that's kind of the goal.
On Dualism and Non-Dualism
This is a topic that might sound mystical and complicated, but let's make it super simple: Focus is dualistic because you have a sense that you (whatever that is) are observing something (your breath, perhaps) that's somehow separate from you, the observer. It sets up that distinction. There are two entities: you, and whatever you're observing.
Open awareness is non-dualistic because you're allowing everything and not narrowing in on one thing. That focus on one thing is artificial—it's something you do (and you have to keep coming back to it). Meanwhile, as a matter of experience, things just appear in consciousness and you choose to recognize that or not. Recognizing that is non-dualism.
"There's not you and what's happening.... It's not unity with everything or a merging with it, but a recognition of the equality of all experiences. Not onenness, but emptiness. No center. No clinging." - Sam Harris
What to do . . .
What happens now? What do you do? If you're Andrew Huberman, you've got some meditating to do.
Here are your options: You can continue to train your focus and work on the ways you can boost your well-being or mood. Or you can practice open awareness more. I teach open awareness for a reason—it's how you get to the true nature of your experience, and it's how you get to equanimity. But if I started with it, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't get any takers. So I begin with what people seem to want and find helpful.
Mindfulness, for the people in the back, is about being able to meet what's occurring without ignoring it, pushing it away, or grasping at it.
Sure, it can also train your mind to concentrate. But realizing that everything is just arising and not taking it personally, is a feat far more difficult, yet far more worthwhile.
May ease find you.