To understand mindfulness (of a certain meditative type) you have to understand the issue of Subject-Object duality.

Subject-Object duality is a vestige of our predatory nature: a life-form (such as you) eyes (sees) another life-form; zooms in, focuses, attends… to see if this other life-form is fit to eat; subject-object duality is born: “I” want “it.”  This is our evolutionary past: our attention evolved to track patterns.

To attend is to objectify, to turn an aspect of reality into an “object,” into a “thing.”  When you objectify an aspect of your environment at the very same time you are also objectifying yourself, turning your unconditional sense of being into a “thing” called “self.”  Indeed, to attend to the Other is to distill yourself into a stand-alone Self out of the oneness of what surrounds you. Immersed in all that is at a baseline, we pop out of this anonymity of mindlessness as soon as we begin to track and hunt patterns.

We are first and foremost informational hunter-gatherers.

So then what is mindfulness?  Mindfulness is a return to this primordial oneness in which you no longer differentiate between yourself and your object of attention, between Self and Other, between Ego and Eco, between Subject and Object.

Mindfulness is, in a sense, a collapse of Subject-Object duality.  Put differently, mindfulness is a form of mindlessness of self (a forgetting of self, a state of no-self, a state of pattern-indifference, a state of no-mind).

To sum up: mind is a pattern-hunger; mindfulness is the satisfaction of this hunger through letting go of the pattern.

Take home message?  Mindfulness is hard because we have evolved to gather information and track patterns.  Letting go of self (and of the pattern at the same time) feels counter-productive, even unsafe.  Yet – in my meditative experience – there is an altogether different kind of safety in letting go and dropping out like that.  Try it sometime.  And have patience for that monkey-mind that keeps looking for a banana-pattern to grasp.

ps: this only applies to certain kinds of meditative mindfulness, the kind of mindfulness states that are designed to approximate an experience of oneness; but, of course, there are other kinds of mindfulness as well – the kind in which you heighten Subject-Object duality through hyper-attentive focus; curiously, if pursued to a certain degree of depth, these meditative roads, eventually, lead to the same meditative Rome.

Woman’s eye photo available from Shutterstock.