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Mindfulness – a homonym and an affliction

2010 January 27
by Helen Keevy

“Mindfulness” has been mentioned repeatedly to me over the past year – by friends, by books, by strangers at networking events. I’m beginning to think the universe might be trying to tell me something. But I’m a slow learner, so it probably needed to be said a number of times.

It seems to be one of those noughties words that have gained a lot of street cred recently – again, maybe I’m just slow and it’s been a mot du jour for decades now. Although I broadly understand this Buddhist concept of clearing your mind of unnecessary clutter, allowing greater awareness and thus greater understanding, of self and others, it still confuses me. And not because it doesn’t make sense as a concept: it confuses me as a word.

Was there some irony in the concept’s translation from Sanscrit? Did the linguist Thomas William Rhys Davids giggle to himself as he translated this cornerstone Buddhist concept as a homonym for a could-be-word describing a serious affliction of the 21st century? Did he have the foresight to try to be funny?

Every time I read or hear the word ‘mindfulness’ I feel the cluttering and clanging of too much information inside my skull. My mind is in fact often so full that sometimes it feels like there are ideas and facts and phrases that have escaped the confines of my cranium and are jiggling and jostling throughout my body. I have a craving to roll maniacally on the ground, as if I could kill off ideas and information like an attack of fire ants. That’s how full my mind feels most of the time.

I can think of very few words that inspire as strong an ‘opposite’ reaction to that intended as this one! But maybe it’s just me.

(Mind top-up to ensure optimum mindfulness: Must check if rolling on the ground would be the best to cope in the event of an attack by fire ants?)

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