To complement the MASSAGE Magazine article, “Mindfulness: Breath, Thoughts, Feelings, Sensations,” by David M. Lobenstine, L.M.T., in the September 2013 issue. Article summary: Mindfulness is a word we hear frequently these days. It is deliciously vague and frustratingly ambiguous. We know we are supposed to practice it—but what exactly is it?


Carl Rogers, the noted psychotherapist, strongly believed in the therapeutic efficacy of something he called “unconditional positive regard.” This approach to a client differs from support and encouragement, as support and encouragement already construe some form of judgment.

For Rogers, unconditional positive regard for a client affords focused attention, a kind of hovering empathy that excludes judgment or advice and allows for responding mindfully.

The History of Mindfulness

Far earlier in the history of mindfulness, Taoism’s founder, Lao Tzu, who lived in China in the sixth century B.C.E., elaborated a pattern-based rubric in which the entire universe may be envisioned—including one’s sense of belonging within it. This broad perspective illustrates all matter as a play between male and female forces.

Taoism, therefore, lodges humankind within the far larger forces of nature, rather than positioning humanity at an imperious distance of superiority, alienated from nature through the Cartesian divide. This philosophy affords a sense of being and belonging for those who choose to consider our place within all things.

As such, Taoism leads to mindfulness because our mind and body are not divided in Taoist thinking, but exist within the greater flow of energy that informs and includes all matter. It is a way of thinking that excludes the possibility of alienation.

Being Present

In a basic way, mindfulness means being present to what you think and feel. We can observe the moment without seeking to exert our own control. This way of being can be seen as a posture of openness to nature:

I breathe deeply and straighten my spine. There are voices outside my office, the dull murmur of a small fan, and the thin metallic sound of the printer. A stapler emanates a small clicking, like a dolphin not given to conversation. I am writing to you, a reader who will concentrate on this page.

I wish you well and hold you in my thoughts, a fellow human being. I breathe in again. The pages I have taped to my desk wave slightly from the air of the fan.

When I close my eyes, I hear still more: a thin and distant laughter, the small plastic rhythm of my fingers tapping keys. I take in the dull red behind my closed eyelids where the light shines through.

Do blind people feel this way when they type? I breathe deeply and sit up, filling my belly with emptiness. I am empty, and my emptiness is full.

The light comes in from outside. The air conditioning is on, but I do not hear it. The summer sun is bright and softened by the shade of a 400 year-old oak tree. A fly is painting lines through my office.

I want to map out the swirling beauty of this moment.

I breathe deeply and straighten my spine. I offer these moments to you with both of my hands, shaped into a bowl, empty as the sky.

Douglas Newton serves as deputy director at Healing Arts Institute (