Is Mindfulness Really About Clearing The Mind?

The phrase "clear your mind" and all its derivatives are one of my personal pet peeves.

When used in the context of meditation, and mindfulness I view it as the root of one of the major misconceptions about the practices.

"Clear" in this case is often misunderstood to be equivalent to "empty" or "remove". As in "clear(ing) out". This can easily lead to people attempting to empty or clear the mind out so that they can then be mindful or meditate. I.e. A verbal rule is formed: I can only meditate or be mindful once my mind is clear. If my mind is not clear, then I am failing at mindfulness.

Clear/Empty = Mindful
Not Empty = Not Mindful

So when I saw the Dalai Lama in a Facebook post say "Meditation is about keeping the mind clear..." I groaned, because if there's one person who knows what meditation is it's His Holiness, yet his own words will likely be misconstrued by so many.

I realized then that the answer was simple. We've all been looking at the word clear in its verb form rather than as an adjective.

Using clear as an adjective–phrases like "clear your mind" can be thought to mean "look into your mind with clarity." Or "Allow the wall between you and what is happening right now to become transparent to yourself."

Indeed the first definition of the word clear, when used as an adjective, is "Easy to perceive, understand, or interpret." And the second is "transparent, unclouded".

Definition number three is "free of any obstructions or unwanted objects"

When viewed as a verb the first definition is "remove an obstruction or unwanted item or items from."

Metaphors are powerful, and they stick around. At best this clear = empty misconception creates a minor stumbling block for those who are just beginning to try mindfulness. At worst it muddies up the whole concept, and turns people off before they even begin.

When practicing mindfulness or meditating, how often do you notice yourself clinging to that misconception that the purpose is to have an empty mind? How often have you tried to push away or shut out thoughts? Can you allow yourself to look at what is happening here, and now, with clarity?

What do you notice?

Jacob MartinezComment