I keep getting stuck on the word “mindfulness” this morning. I guess most of the time I can just glide past the word and experience the reality to which it refers. But you know that phenomenon where, if you repeat a perfectly reasonable, commonplace word enough times, it starts to sound like nonsense? Try it: Button. Button. Button. Button. Button. Something like that occasionally happens to me with a word like “mindfulness,” where I gradually realize it’s just a bunch of blah-blah syllables that don’t really convey the meaning of this word.
I’m no pro etymologist — is that even a thing? — but according to the thought loops I was having on my meditation cushion this morning, it′s obvious from the structure of the word that the cultures who produced English didn’t have an indigenous term for this, so it had to be invented.
“Mind-” seems like a reasonable start; it’s a jolly old English word for the place, if you will, where mindfulness takes place, whatever it is. Then we get the suffix “-ful-,” which is kinda like the standalone word “full,” but in a specific sense that indicates self-possession. The best reference for it I can come up with is the word “careful.” I guess to be mindful is to be self-possessed of mind in the same sense in which to be careful is to be self-possessed of care. Doesn’t help much.
Then you tack on that irritatingly New Age suffix “-ness” to make a noun out of it, and now it has the sound of some immutable essence that’s out there to be taken possession of, and that seems all wrong. The English word for this should be a verb! It’s not something you get, it’s something you do.