If I were to condense a definition of mindfulness into a single word, agape would be the one.
Every time I teach a five-week mindfulness course for students and staff at USC, I introduce the class with a simple definition of the state we are trying to reach in the practice: a loving awareness of thoughts, feelings, sensations, urges in the present moment, while letting go of judgments about them.
But what kind of love do we employ in mindfulness practice? It takes some explaining to my students. Love is a fraught word, with many meanings and shades of each.
The Greek words for love in the New Testament are “eros” - romantic love,“philia” - filial love or friendship, and “agape” - unconditional love – love no matter what. In 1 John 4:8, where it says “God is love”, the word for love is agape.
Mindfulness is this specific kind of love. It is deeply attentive, open, curious, engaged; inclined to enjoyment and delight, but willing to experience suffering as well as to commune with the suffering of others. It refrains from judgments or evaluations. It gently and appreciatively holds whom or what is observed without preconditions or assumptions or fixed definitions. What is, as it is, it allows to be. It does not grasp or clutch. It affords freedom to whom and to what it attends. It is not focused on fixing or changing people or things.
Agape is God. Agape is prayer. Agape is mindfulness. Agape is the love we practice in mindful prayer.
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Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California