the mind is all you have

In ‘Waking Up’ Sam Harris writes, our minds are all we have; they are all we have ever had. And they are all we can offer others

Harris uses the perspective of a neuroscientist to re-articulate what contemplatives and mystics have been proffering for millennia: that we can reframe our attitude towards how we encounter our present moments. The reframing is like a game, or trick: one of catching the present moment as it arises so as to experience and embody its potential for …well, if not meaning, then at least some semblance of wellbeing; which is meaningful in itself. Harris advises that acknowledging that there is a structure to the game we are playing allows us to play it differently; that how we play the game of paying attention to the present moment largely determines the character of our experience and therefore the quality of our lives. There’s also a science to the game. It’s called neuroplasticity.

So if the idea of mindfulness as a game, or trick, works for you, then fine: ride with that.

For me the power comes from learning, or cultivating, how to acknowledge the structure of the game: how to play the game differently precisely because it’s within our power to do so. You’ve just got to get to know the rules. Then practice.

The game tells us that the quality of our lives can be enhanced, even in the midst of sickness, strain or stress. It doesn’t have to be a fait accompli to be taken down the path of debilitation. You don’t have to accept that there is some cause and effect design. As Richard Dawkins (he of the ungenerous gene) tells us: we can ‘upset our designs’. There’s a certain liberation in just knowing that. In knowing that this is a game I might be able to play.

Perhaps Harris calls it a game, or just a trick, to puncture the aura of mysticism associated with such states of mind; after all, tricks are designed to upset the seemingly natural order of things. For a trick to succeed though the practitioner needs to understand how the mechanics of its construction operate; understand that mastery of the trick itself comes from approaching it with the right attitude, otherwise it will not intrigue its audience: and be of no doubt, the mind is an audience waiting to be swayed and convinced.

As a metaphor the ‘game’ or ‘trick’ works for me.

After all, if my mind is tricking me, then why not learn how to trick it back?

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Every month or so I'll send out ideas and resources - what I think might be of interest and use to you, such as links to books, articles, podcasts, quotes, stories, art, music, meditations - that I hope will help inspire you to cultivate your own mindful life.