24 August 2020


 Currently, mindfulness is all the rage in meditation land as it is easy to teach, easy to learn, easy to integrate into our lives, easy to research – and it delivers on its promises – it works! 

Yet when it comes to the actual practice of mindfulness, did you know there are two types, and why it is important to practice one before the other? So this week, some practice tips along with explanation of the two types of mindfulness (drawn from the content of my recent book, Blue Sky Mind - the Art of Meditation), but first

Thought for the day

The general idea is that if you open yourself up 

To what the given situation is, 

Then you see its completely naked quality. 

You do not have to put up a defence mechanism anymore, 

Because you see through it 

And you know exactly what to do. 

You just deal with things, 

Rather than defending yourself.

Chogyam Trungpa

Mindfulness can be defined as the awareness that comes from paying attention to our present moment experience, deliberately and non-judgementally. So how does it work in practice? There are two ways we can pay attention to our present moment experience — with focussed mindfulness and with open mindfulness.

1. Focussed mindfulness - This is where we choose to pay attention to just one thing. 

This way of deliberately focusing our attention gives us a way to block out other thoughts and distractions and helps to settle a restless mind. It is easy to learn, easy to practise, and translates easily into daily life.

Common things to focus upon include the breath, the sounds around about us, the sensations in our body and our thoughts as they travel through our mind.

With focussed mindfulness we need to concentrate and maintain our focus. This takes energy. If we do find our mind becoming distracted or wandering, we need to notice that and bring our attention back to our chosen point of concentration. And while this does take some energy, some effort; focussed mindfulness is the best way to begin learning mindfulness and practising it formally. 

2. Open mindfulness –  This is where we do not focus our attention on one particular thing, but remain more open and pay attention to whatever it is that does happen to come into our awareness.

So in this version of mindfulness we simply aim to remain open and curious. This can be likened to a wise old woman sitting back and watching children play. There is an ease and a comfort with what the children are doing, perhaps even an inner knowing that it is just games they are playing. Maybe too a level of care to notice if anyone does need help, yet no particular need to interfere or change anything; just a deep contentment to observe the children at play.

To accomplish open mindfulness as a part of our meditation, we start by sitting and relaxing, then if our attention goes to some sounds from outside, we simply notice them, free of any judgement or commentary. We leave the sounds as they are.

Then if our attention is taken by some sensations in our body, we simply notice those. Maybe then thoughts fill our awareness and again, the aim is to simply notice them; let go of any afterthought, any commentary, any judgement. Simply notice whatever it is that does come into our awareness, and leave it as it is. Open mindfulness.

Open mindfulness requires less effort than focussed mindfulness, but when we do it the potential to become distracted is greater. So it makes good sense to learn, practise and become reasonably adept with focussed mindfulness first because this is how we learn the technique of mindfulness and develop our basic skills. 

Focussed mindfulness definitely requires effort, the effort to focus our attention and learn a new technique. However, as we develop some capacity with this version of mindfulness, we move on into open mindfulness. And good news. Once we have some experience with it, open mindfulness requires little effort. In fact, when open mindfulness is flowing well, it is completely effortless. 

In open mindfulness there is nothing specific we need to focus upon. It is inherently relaxing. There is just one significant potential difficulty. When compared to focussed mindfulness, with open mindfulness it is relatively easy to become caught up or distracted by whatever it is that does come into our awareness. So the key to open mindfulness is learning and developing the capacity to remain undistracted. 

While we are in the process of developing our capacity with open mindfulness, we need to take account of the fact that as life goes on we may well experience times where our thoughts and emotions do distract us seriously. At such times, without beating ourselves up with feelings of guilt or shame, we may well benefit from devoting our regular practice to a more focussed form of mindfulness. Then, as we do come to feel more settled, we can expand out into open mindfulness once more. 

So to finish, more good news. Whether it be focussed or open mindfulness we are practicing, once we have learnt how to relax our body, settle our mind, sit still and remain undistracted, then we truly are making some progress. And the best bit? As we do remain undistracted, that deeper stillness of meditation begins to unfold; to become more apparent. Open mindfulness makes for a natural prelude to the deeper experience of real meditation.

May your mindfulness lead you into meditation…


  1. Thank you Ian, this is a great description of something that I have recently been wondering about. I really appreciate your clarity. Peace and blessings, Carmen

  2. Funny how these things happen Ian. I was talking to my niece Pia (my brother's daughter) less than 24 hours ago about how much tension I had been carrying around of late, and how distracted I had become from my mindfulness practice over the last year or so. The connection between the two was not lost on us. Your article was very timely. Thank you.

    Peter Jelinek

  3. Good to hear from you Peter and happy this post was timely for you and Pia :)