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Conscious Awareness and Mindfulness

Bruce Barbour - February 2019

Please read this after you  have read the rest of the Conscious Happiness site. Otherwise it won't make much sense.

On this site I use the term Conscious Awareness. I never use the term Mindfulness - until now. This raises the question: What is the difference, if any, between Conscious Awareness and Mindfulness?

At the time I started to write this site I investigated Mindfulness thinking that I might be able to use this term instead of inventing my own if it had a suitable definition. From my reading the thing that most struck me was that there was no agreement on what Mindfulness meant. Here is one site - Positive Psychology Program - that provides a collection of different definitions of Mindfulness from a range of sources.

Some of the definitions are about being generally in the present moment. For example:
  • “Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present.” - Psychology Today; 
  • “The practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” - Merriam-Webster Dictionary; and
  • “Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.” - Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley
These definitions suggest a non-directed general awareness of the present moment. This is different to Conscious Awareness. Conscious Awareness is a state of being in the present moment but it is not necessarily about being aware of everything that is going on in that moment. Conscious Awareness primarily advocates directing the Awareness to what is important to you at that moment rather than allowing everything to fill the Consciousness Vessel. If you are in a crowded room what is the point off being aware of the background noise or the conversation of people you are not directly engaged with, rather than what is important to you and right in front of you. Conscious Awareness of sense information is the use of Conscious Awareness to fully experience the information from the senses that is available to you and suggests that this has the potential of being interpreted by Emotion towards a state of happiness.

The following definitions of Mindfulness on the Positive Psychology Program site seem to be closer to what I call Conscious Awareness:
  • “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally.” - Jon Kabat-Zinn;
  • "Mindful awareness, as we will see, actually involves more than just simply being aware: It involves being aware of aspects of the mind itself. Instead of being on automatic and mindless, mindfulness helps us awaken, and by reflecting on the mind we are enabled to make choices and thus change becomes possible.” - Daniel J. Siegel; and
Jon Kabat-Zinn indicates that there is an element of choice in what to be aware of rather than the wholesale absorption of everything that is going on around you in the present moment. It depends on what he means by 'paying attention in a particular way". Siegel also indicates the element of choice but again is not precise in what is meant. Neither of these definitions are close enough or precise enough to what I mean by Conscious Awareness.

While many of the definitions provided on the Positive Psychology Program site do not indicate that focused awareness is part of Mindfulness, practices advocated by many mindfulness practitioners clearly use focused awareness. For example - mindful eating. Therefore despite some of the definitions, focused awareness, as well as general awareness, seem to be part of the Mindfulness canon. In this regard Mindfulness does not conflict with Conscious Awareness.

Some of the definitions seems to advocate being Mindful all the time. In my opinion being Mindful at all times is not necessary. Nor is it practical. For example if you are writing an essay I can see very little utility in also thinking or otherwise being aware continuously during the writing process that "I am aware that I am writing an essay at this present moment". That thought / awareness process would use part of the limited Consciousness Vessel capacity leaving less for thoughts related to what is being written. It won't improve the process, it won't improve the essay. It is better to fully concentrate on writing the essay while writing. The practicality of continual Mindfulness, especially for people living busy lives in the West, is doubtful. It is impossible when sleeping, when the contents of the Consciousness Vessel shrinks to a minimum. A better approach would be to use Mindfulness or Conscious Awareness techniques between the periods of focused thought while writing, recentring yourself back to Awareness of your body and your senses. Some mindfulness practitioners advocate formal Mindfulness for say 45 minutes a day with smaller "mindful moments" throughout the day. This approach does not conflict with Conscious Awareness.

One area where Conscious Awareness seems to differ from Mindfulness is in the suggestion that some sense information gained from Conscious Awareness can be interpreted into positive emotions, though this is really about the use of Conscious Awareness information rather than something which is intrinsic to Conscious Awareness processes.

Conscious Awareness works in the same area as Mindfulness and has many similarities. Because of the lack of precision and the wide variety of definitions of Mindfulness and the range of ideas of the various practitioners Conscious Awareness can sit comfortably within the Mindfulness camp. However I still prefer to use the term Conscious Awareness as it enables me define the term in the way that I want, without any of the confusion which could have arisen if I had of used the term Mindfulness.

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