Mindful awareness, also called mindfulness, is found in many cultures worldwide. It has three major components: (1) being fully present in the moment, rather than focusing on either the past or the future; (2) being aware of the thoughts, emotions, and experiences that arise in that present moment; and (3) being nonjudgmental when those thoughts, emotions, and experiences arise. These components of mindfulness are important to a number of traditional Indigenous cultures, though formal transmission of the skill is not as well-developed as it is in some of the other cultures where it’s found.
The traditional cultures of Asia have produced a rich body of oral and written information that teaches people how to achieve mindful awareness. Mindfulness is a key feature of Buddhist worldview, for example, in much the same way that specific views of the Land are key to Indigenous worldview. Buddhism has therefore developed a formalized knowledge system for teaching mindfulness that is very helpful to people of other cultural traditions.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D, Founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center has stated, “The key to this path (mindfulness), which lies at the root of Buddhism, Taoism, and yoga, and which we also find in the works of people like Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman, and in Native American wisdom, is an appreciation for the present moment and the cultivation of an intimate relationship with it through a continual attending to it with care and discernment. It is the direct opposite of taking life for granted.” Mindfulness has been incorporated into Western medicine over the last few decades because it produces remarkable results in treating conditions ranging from chronic pain to severe anxiety. For example, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction is the centerpiece of Kabat-Zinn’s Stress Reduction Clinic.
Mindfulness practice in Indigenous communities is often deeply tied to rituals that are culture- and place-specific. It is not appropriate to use these rituals outside of their home contexts. So Tapestry uses instructional information from several other types of sources to teach very basic mindfulness practice as a skill to participants in many of our programs, for example Horse Ibachakali. We do this because we’ve learned that mindful awareness empowers the rest of the entire learning experience in significant ways.