not noticing for noticing's sake

 Is it just about noticing? Is that what I’m supposed to be doing here? 

Well, no it isn't. 

But I found that I needed to consult someone about this. Someone wise and witty. After all, we don't want to get all earnest about this, do we?

So I consulted Ajahn Brahm’s ‘Bear Awareness: Questions and Answers On Taming Your Wild Mind', and found this response:

During vipassana retreats, the teachers normally suggest labelling or noting each action, thereby cultivating mindfulness. Do you recommend this?

Here’s his response:

No. Here’s a story I invented to illustrate why not (with apologies for inadvertently offending any vipassana teachers – it’s meant in good fun).

One evening a rich woman was going to a talk at the local Buddhist temple. She told her security guard: “There are burglars around who know that I go to the temple, and they may try to break in. I have lots of expensive stuff, so please be mindful.”

The guard said, “OK, madam, I’ve done my vipassana retreats – I know how to be mindful. “

“Very good”, she replied, and off she went.

But when she returned home, she discovered that the robbers had torn through her house and stolen everything!

She was very upset and went to scold the guard: “I told you to be mindful! You learned about mindfulness at those retreats. Why did you allow me to be robbed?

The guard said: “Madam, I was mindful. I saw the burglars going in and I noted, ‘Burglars going in, burglars going in, burglars going in.’ I saw them taking out all your expensive jewelry and I noted, ‘Expensive jewelry going out, expensive jewelry going out, expensive jewelry going out.’ I saw them drive their truck next to the house and I noted, ‘Truck coming, truck coming’. I saw them taking your safe and putting it in the back of the truck, and I noted, ‘Safe going in back of truck, safe going in back of truck.’ I was very mindful; I noted everything madam.

Of course, that’s stupid; you’re not supposed to just note. If you see burglars going in, you’re supposed to do something, like call the police. Just noting is not enough. The same is true for meditation. 1

You don’t notice for noticing’s sake. Indeed, the apostrophe applied to ‘noticing’ suggests a holding on to what the concept of noticing is, rather than the attitude of kindness, curiosity and compassion needed as the foundation to noticing. An open heart will more fully inform what the appropriate action is to take in each situation. The noticing itself is a training in softening up the heart. And that has to start with yourself: being kind to yourself about what is arising as you notice. If you cultivate that then you will find that what you start to notice outside of yourself, in the external world, is informed by a more discerning, discriminating awareness. This is noticing as unconditional love. And unconditional love will not allow unethical behaviour to go unchallenged.

As Brahm says: 'Learning unconditional love is the same as learning to meditate – it’s about opening the door of your heart. You practice by sitting in the present moment, with all its stupidity, its tiredness, and everything else that’s going on in your mind, not wanting the moment to be any different from what it is. Loving kindness and letting go are the same thing. As you learn to meditate, your unconditional love grows and grows'. 2

You cannot notice unless you open the door of your heart to what you are noticing.

1 & 2 Ajahn Brahm, Bear Awareness: Questions and Answers on Taming Your Wild Mind pages 17-18

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