By Loch Kelly
Effortless mindfulness is a unique form of mindfulness. What most people in the West know as mindfulness, I call deliberate mindfulness. The teachings of deliberate mindfulness stem primarily from the Teravada and Zen traditions of South and East Asia and the initial practices of Tibetan Buddhism. Deliberate mindfulness has also been brought into secular settings in the United States through mindfulness practices for physical and psychological treatment and stress reduction such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).
I love these practices because they provide a way of cultivating calm, patience, and intentional lovingkindness. I have taught deliberate mindfulness for decades as a teacher at New York Insight Meditation Center and have seen the practice help countless people. I deeply value deliberate mindfulness and its benefits. I am grateful for the popularity it is gaining in the West because it is allowing people to find greater peace of mind.
Effortless mindfulness, on the other hand, can be considered a different form of mindfulness, which is sometimes taught after having developed a deliberate mindfulness practice. It can also be a helpful alternative approach for those who have had difficulty with concentration practices or sitting meditation.
Though often considered advanced, it can be a good starting place for people who are new to meditation. The effortless mindfulness practice begins with an opening to an already awake, optimal mind from which we can be effortlessly focused. The full unfolding leads to a life that is not more detached, however, but more embodied, intimate, courageous, and wise.
Effortless mindfulness has its roots in the world’s wisdom traditions that are often described as direct path, essence traditions, or nondual traditions. The premise of the direct approach in all meditative traditions is that the awake loving nature we are seeking is already here within us and can be accessed immediately. The primary nondual tradition that the effortless mindfulness map and practices in this book draw from is called Sutra Mahamudra, which began in North India and links the three main traditions of Buddhism: Teravada, Mahayana, and Tibetan. Sutra Mahamudra was primarily a movement of lay practitioners who developed a style of practice to facilitate awakening—a shift and upgrade of awareness, mind, and identity—in the midst of everyday life.
Effortless mindfulness is ideal for our contemporary Western culture in that it demonstrates that awakening is possible for anyone without having to leave home, friends, work, or family.
The Benefits of Effortless Mindfulness
In bringing effortless mindfulness into the contemporary Western context, I have grown increasingly interested in the particular obstacles and supports to living a genuine, awakened life. [There are many ways of] working with the emotional, energetic, and psychological aspects of our human experience and identity.
With effortless mindfulness, you’ll uncover a sense of well-being that relieves suffering at its root. Students who consistently practice effortless mindfulness describe a relief from judgmental thinking, a deep sense of safety and well-being, a sense of openness and interconnection, and an ability to welcome strong emotions with less worry, fear, and shame. They also experience more compassion for themselves and others; a greater motivation, clarity, and optimal functioning at work; and a new capacity for creativity and loving relationships.
I believe that no matter where you are on your life’s journey or in your meditation practice, you’ll find something of benefit in engaging effortless mindfulness. I am convinced, after decades of studying, practicing, seeing students’ progress, and conversing with colleagues, that awakening is truly possible in the midst of our everyday lives. This is possible because the awake nature that we are seeking is already here and available within us. Awakening is part of our common human heritage, spanning all traditions and cultures. In fact, I see clear indications that awakening is the next natural stage of human development. I have seen how those who are awakening have naturally begun to heal, teach, and support others, which seems to be part of a consciousness revolution.
Many of us are concerned about social, political, economic, and environmental issues on this planet. I believe that taking responsibility to find our own true sense of compassionate interconnectedness, and then helping others do the same, can be a radical collective healing that can bring a better future for all of us.
Adapted from The Way of Effortless Mindfulness by Loch Kelly (Sounds True, 2019).
Loch Kelly, M.Div., LCSW is an author, licensed psychotherapist and recognized leader in the field of meditation. He is the founder of the non-profit, Open-Hearted Awareness Institute and has worked in community mental health. Loch has studied in Sri Lanka, India and at Columbia University. Loch collaborates with neuroscientists to study awakening and compassion.