Mindfulness: the art of detached awareness

By staying aware of our self, we escape the delusion of the self.  Photo by Michele Guan on Unsplash

Do not seek fame.

Do not make plans.
Do not be absorbed by activities.
Do not think that you know.
Be aware of all that is,
and dwell in the infinite.
(Chuang Tzu)


Attachment brings a motivation that can only lead to unhappiness.  Fame is a question of being temporarily recognised by others, and doesn’t bring anything of value.

There are plentiful documentaries by people who were stars one minute, and then let go by the world the next.  Their suffering was compounded by the loss of dignity that they felt.  If you climb a mountain, then you face the risk of falling off that mountain.  Fame is like that.  It takes you up a mountain, and you will feel the fall when it comes.

We are attracted to fame because the implied reputation compensates us for any lack of self-esteem we are suffering from.  We have an audience, and that audience temporarily boost us.  But we still go home to the same self, and unless we are comfortable with that self, all the fame in the world will only  bring us insecurity.


Investing in your own material future is a sure way of being disappointed.  One day you will die, and death will take away your ownership of all you have.

Planning, in the sense of organizing, is a useful skill.  It is the self-investment that creeps in which can be dangerous.  If you make plans for yourself, then you are distracting yourself from the simple doing that is a true cause of happiness.  It is a fine art to organise without self-investment.  But if we can learn the art – of organising our lives without investing any personal dignity in outcomes – then we have the best of both worlds.


Mindfulness is all about maintaining awareness of the self.  When we are absorbed by activities, we are lost.  In meditation, we will notice that, no sooner have we set an intention to remain aware, than our daydreams get the better of us.  Sometimes it seems almost impossible to remain mindful.

But if we learn the skill of remaining mindful whatever happens, then we will be protected from being over-absorbed in anger, irritation, panic, driven-ness, selfishness… none of these will have a hold on us, because we remain detached.


The solutions we come up with are never final answers.  True awareness has an emptiness about it that is not attached to any particular knowledge.  Awareness does not hold up any particular thing as ‘the truth’.  Rather, it keeps a focus on the emptiness in all things, and remembers never to grasp conclusions, because there are no conclusions.


Most attachment is partial, in the sense of biased.  And most knowledge is partial, in the sense that it is only part-knowledge.  Our selfishness disappears as we develop universal compassion; and our ignorance disappears as we develop our universal awareness.  If everything is connected, then nothing can be known separately from everything that is.  The only unchallengable context is all.  Once we are in touch with the universal, we are free of localised argument.


Time is a kind of prison.  We only have our lifetimes, which are a biological struggle between birth and death.  But sometimes the mind escapes the prison, and finds its way towards truths that exist beyond our one life’s suffering.

Psychologically, anxiety is strongly related to finiteness.  When our activity feels compressed into into a short time slot, we start to feel anxious.  Remove the artificial ending of the time slot, and we can breathe again.  The more we can live with an appreciation of the ultimate endlessness of things, the less anxious we will be.