Mindfulness involves continually bringing one's awareness back into the present moment.
By residing more frequently in the present, one begins to see that the mind is continually chattering away with commentary and judgment. By noticing what the mind is offering up, one gains the ability to observe their thoughts and to see them for what they are without fear or judgment.
- What is Mindfulness? http://thinkmindfully.com/
Talk about being judgmental! “Chattering” is a word that oozes with judgment. Here are the first two definitions from Dictionary.com: 1) “to talk rapidly in a foolish or purposeless way; jabber;” and 2) “to utter a succession of quick, inarticulate, speech-like sounds, as monkeys or certain birds.” When you describe someone as “chattering”, you are devaluing them and their speech.
Is the mind actually “continually chattering away with commentary and judgment”? Content-analysis of thought-streams have repeatedly found that goal-directed planning, rehearsing and problem-solving are the most common type of content in “task-unrelated thought”, see, e.g., Baird et al 2011 or Morin et al 2011. Quoting the latter:
“The most often self-reported inner speech function was self-regulation, which includes planning to engage in specific tasks, self motivating speech, time management, and planning when to do things. Also frequently mentioned was self-talk used to solve problems and make decisions, as well as inner speech used as a mnemonic aid.” Morin et al, p. 1717
We are told to observe these “chattering” thoughts and “see them for what they are”. What they “are’ is already being suggested. “Observing” sounds like a neutral activity, but it’s not. One cannot observe without bias – what to focus on, what to look for, what aspects to highlight, how to frame, what components make up the bounded object – bias is inevitable even without blatant suggestions on how to interpret whatever is being observed.
This characterization of thoughts as chattering nonsense is typical of the religious project: stress how pathetic life is without commitment to the One True Path. You can’t get people all excited about the possibility of future awaking without contrasting it with current sleep. And you can’t get people to stay on the path without frequent reminders of the suffering and darkness that would befall them should they lose their way.
Achieving religious transformation can take a lifetime (or more) of time and effort. Few people would persevere on this quest if they considered regular life okay or pretty good except for sometimes. Approach motivation may be enough to get you started on the religious path but after the initial thrill is gone, avoidance motivation keeps you there.
Alain Morin, Bob Uttl, Breanne Hamper Self-reported frequency, content, and functions of inner speech. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 30 (2011) 1714 – 1718.
Benjamin Baird , Jonathan Smallwood, and Jonathan W. Schooler (2011) Back to the future: Autobiographical planning and the functionality of mind-wandering. Consciousness and Cognition Volume 20, Issue 4, 604–1611.