Mindfulness Is Not What You Think

The process of mindfulness is simply being attentive, being present and observing our experience of body––as it is. We stay with this “as it is” experience, without too much extra embellishment, and also without denying the fact of our experience. Just experiencing the way it is.

When we experience mindfulness of our body in this way, in that moment we can already get some sense of an absence of confusion. A sense of being in the moment genuinely. So this mindfulness is beautiful. We don’t need to turn this experience into something else. Nor do we have to deny anything. Just experience the way it is.

Bring your mind into your body and see how you feel about it––how you feel about being in your body, instead of always being “out there” in some kind of mental form. This is traditionally what we call “mindfulness of body.”

Being Mindful with Our Emotions

As we do in the mindfulness of body practice, you can even scan through your body and try to let go of any emotions. You let go by relaxing, not by pushing. When the letting go becomes pushing, then the emotions resist more. As usual––when you push someone away, they won’t go away.

The practice of Mindful Gap is helpful here––it gives us the space to recognize when emotion is arising. If you’re experiencing fear or anger, you can see, “OK, this emotion is arising, I’m experiencing anger here. This is how anger feels. This is how anger looks. This is how anger manifests.”

To observe that emotion with this sense of mindfulness is our first step of working with our emotions. In that way we’re actually creating, or experiencing, a gap, through which we will cut the stream of endless conceptualization and labeling of our anger, our fear and so on. When we stop this stream of concepts through mindfulness, we begin to get a sense of perspective on our emotions.

How We Can Help Others with Our Mindfulness

The first step to benefiting others is not harming them. If we are mindful of our body, mindful of our speech, mindful of our intentions, thoughts and emotions––then we are saving other beings from pain and suffering. We are preventing ourselves from causing them harm. So that’s the first way of benefiting other beings.

And secondly, when you want to benefit beings you must really try to learn, or hear, what they need. We need to listen to find out how we can be of assistance with their needs, how we can ease their suffering. It’s not about what we think they need. What they need, and what we think they need––these are two different things.

Usually we try to benefit others by forcing our idea of what they need, by going around the world and telling people, “You need running water in your village, so we will put in water pipes,” and so on, like that. So when we want to benefit others, we need mindfulness.

We can be mindful in listening to those we wish to help, so we can hear what they need. And if we are also mindful of our own projections about what they need––and if we can refrain from acting on those projections––then we are really benefiting others at the very heart level. At the direct heart level, we’re hearing each other. Then we can really do something that makes a difference in the lives of others, from their perspective of what they need.

Mindful Listening: An Exercise

When we pay attention and listen well to our own thoughts and emotions, we become able to help others, too.

1.  Sit quietly where you won’t be disturbed and just listen to your body. Is there tension anywhere in your body? Is there any emotion? How does it feel?

2. Listen to your body, mind and any emotions without adding thoughts or judgements. Just listen and experience whatever is there, just “as it is.”

3.  Now imagine you are listening to a friend talking about a difficulty they’ve been having. As you do, keep listening to the flow of sensations in your own body and your emotions.

4.  As you imagine listening to your friend, let your own experience be just as it is. What is it like to consider listening to yourself while you are listening to someone else as well?

5. Try this out the next time you are listening to someone else. See if you can stay connected to your own physical and emotional experience, even while you are listening to someone else talk about theirs. Later you could write down a few notes about what you observed while doing this.


Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche taught on these aspects of mindfulness in an Emotional Rescue workshop given in Seattle, Washington in 2016.