Mindfulness has been my meditation for quite a few years. As I wrote about recently, being mindful of what actually exists here and now strikes me as way preferable to fantasizing about supernatural realms and mystical mumbo-jumbo.
Thought I'm not 100% sure about anything -- the way of science -- I consider it highly probably that these premises are true.
(1) The mind is the brain in action
(2) There is no enduring, unchanging self or soul
(3) Free will is an illusion
(4) We humans see reality through a species-specific lens
(5) Consciousness is created by the brain
(6) All living beings exist in a web of interconnections
So my favorite books about mindfulness and meditation recognize that those six statements most likely are how us Homo sapiens relate to reality. The six truths are grounded in modern science and neuroscience, though naturally there's room for quibbling about the exact nature of what I've summarized above in a half dozen pithy sentences.
I'm not saying that every author who writes about mindfulness/meditation needs to explicitly agree with each of the principles above to get my stamp of approval. However, at least what they say shouldn't conflict with those principles, or my highlighter is quick to insert question marks in the margin of their book's pages.
A book by Loch Kelly, "The Way of Effortless Mindfulness," came to my attention via an interview Sam Harris conducted with Kelly and shared on Harris' Waking Up iPhone app that I'm a fan of.
Any book about meditation that has effortless in the title is going to get my attention.
For thirty-five years I practiced a mystical meditative practice that involved considerable effort via repeating a mantra, sitting in a particular posture, and adhering to various other rules (such as ideally meditating for 2 1/2 hours a day, which I did for many years).
By comparison, mindfulness involves much less effort, since the focus is on attending to what is right before us, notably the breath.
In his interview with Harris, Loch Kelly talked about how his mindfulness approach derives from Tibetan Buddhism, which differs in some regards from other forms of Buddhism. Basically Kelly (along with Harris) considers that awareness itself is key to mindfulness, with the contents of awareness, though important, being secondary.
Here's an excerpt from Kelly's book that describes how effortless mindfulness differs from deliberate (or effortful) mindfulness.
One simple way to distinguish the two types of mindfulness is to say that they are both being mindful but from different levels of mind. This is important because what you can be mindful of depends on what level of mind you're mindful from.
In effortless mindfulness, it is not as important to focus on what thoughts and emotions are arising but rather to ask, "Who or what level of mind are they arising to?" In effortless mindfulness, we shift from focusing on what we are aware of into focusing on awareness itself -- moving from a detached observer and into a view from interconnected awake awareness.
In deliberate mindfulness, we are aware, from our mindful witness, of things arising and passing. Effortless mindfulness invites us to be more intimately interconnected with our experience and all that is happening.
This begins when we shift out of both our conceptual mind and our mindful witness and into awake awareness. Deliberate mindfulness focuses on the contents of consciousness, while effortless mindfulness turns back to be aware of the context -- awareness itself.
With deliberate mindfulness, we discover who we are not. With effortless mindfulness, we discover who we essentially are.
By and large, this makes sense to me.
I'm not convinced that it makes sense to speak of consciousness without content, since seemingly this would leave us completely unaware of everything, including consciousness itself. But I agree that awareness does appear to be the backdrop of all that we've experienced from the moment of our birth.
Each of us has been aware of countless different things during our lifetime, while awareness itself hasn't changed.
Kelly doesn't view awareness and consciousness as being the same, even though in everyday speech we often consider them to be equivalent. Kelly says, rather mysteriously, "Awake awareness is what makes consciousness conscious. Thoughts, feelings, and sensations are dancing patterns made of awake awareness."
Also: "Awake awareness is the same in all of us, yet our individuality arises from it." And: "Once we experience awake awareness as the foundation of our identity, we experience our conditioned thoughts, emotions, and sensations as waves within the ocean of our life."
Mindful Glimpses are the key teaching method in Kelly's book. They're designed to show us what awake awareness is all about. Here's two of his early Mindful Glimpses.
(1) Take one slow, deep breath.
(2) Let out a sigh.
(3) Now, let your awareness open to discover the background awareness that is already effortlessly awake and aware without your help.
(4) Notice that you can effortlessly focus from this background awareness.
Eyes of Awareness
(1) With a soft gaze, simply see what is here in front of you.
(2) Notice the awareness that is looking through your eyes.
(3) Now close your eyes and notice the same awareness that was looking out is still here.
(4) Simply rest as this wordless awareness, which is now aware of itself.
(5) Without creating a thinker, be the awareness that welcomes and includes everything.