your mindful life
Jan 1, 2019
There was no epiphany, no profound moment of self-awareness, or enlightenment (unless, that is, you define enlightenment as no enlightenment, in which case there was a smorgasbord of enlightenment), there was instead this kind of cumulative sense of things emerging: probably out of weariness with the autonomic toll, the irascibility, the distractibility, the caught-up-ness, the addictive tendencies, the shouting at my kids, the shouting at other people’s kids, the shouting at the parents of other people’s kids, the passive aggression, and the muttering at fellow drivers on a particular stretch of road in a small patch of a county in a small country that was already in the full throes of losing its collective mind.
Then there was (and still is) the rumination: the persistent voice yammering, yelping, yapping. Until it got to the point where I had to ask: who the hell are you talking to, anyhow? Thankfully, mindfulness offered some respite. Science helped too, with evidence for mindfulness as a potentially consoling reality. For instance, the voice in your head? Science says that reality has been around as a default mode for millions of years. That it’s not just me (or you). That it’s something to do with the evolution of the brain. Just getting to know that is a good place to start your mindful life. Science also helped dispel the myth that mindfulness is a religious thing, or about emptying the mind of thoughts, or chilling out. It’s possibly more mundane than that. It’s actually just common sense: although common sense is - as a wit once put it - not so common. Thankfully, mindfulness is good at elucidating, or riffing upon, common sense themes. For instance, it turns out the voice in your head is nothing more than a self-referential reiteration of ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘mine’. Just stopping to pause and reflect upon that gives you a feeling of common sense ness. It also helps you realise that you can tame the impetuous little saboteur that is your puppy dog mind, although you’ll fail time and time again to do so. But instead of getting desperate or frustrated about that mindfulness will teach you how to cultivate curiosity about your perceived sense of failure. It will encourage you to begin again and practice something called acceptance. It’s not particularly easy to do this. It’s simple, for sure, but it’s precisely its simplicity that makes it hard: accepting, with curiosity and the motivation to begin again, the liquidity of your conscious awareness. It’s what makes for a mindful life. It’s also slightly Jedi-like. Which appeals to the hero in me. Never forget that, my friend, you are a hero.
Then there’s taking your meds. Yes you have to meditate. Meditation is the boot camp. Reps for the mind. The training ground for responding rather than reacting. It’s what I particularly struggle with: keeping up the practice, skipping the odd day here and there, convincing myself that a lie-in can double-up as a body scan. None of that is good. It’s throwing what’s available away, like dumping plastic in the ocean, when you could put some effort into recognising the urge to litter but choose instead to make the ethical decision to recycle. Best to recognise that. Then begin again.
Of course, you could go for the cognitive approach by acquiring a bunch of heuristics to bail you out. But that’s hard work. Not only that, it’s cognitive overload. It’s better to start with what your body is telling you. Ah, yes. The body. Remember the body? The piece of kit you’re attached to? You woke up with it this morning. Then probably forgot all about it. There’s a lot of wisdom in this guest house of yours. A lot of embedded poetry. The problem is, as the oft-quoted Joyce phrase reminds us, we live a short distance from our bodies. Then we shoot off down some conceptual highway. Thinking this, thinking that. Until our thoughts think us. However, it’s the body that will help us navigate that slipperiness in attention that you’re experiencing now, as you attempt to stay focused on reading these words.
The body is where the work starts. If you practice detecting its signals you get to move toward an embodied sense of the attitudes of mindfulness: attitudes that distinguish mindfulness from other states of conscious awareness, such as flow states. For sure, flow states are profound but they don’t operate under conditions of kindness, curiosity, and compassion: just ask a serial killer, or any of the nefarious operatives employed by Mohammad bin Salman. Yes, I’m sure those guys experienced profound flow states - sinewy flow states - but they hardly made the world a better place. And that’s the ultimate thing about mindfulness: the way it dismantles the ego through its cumulative cultivation of compassion towards yourself and others. Its inwardness means nothing unless it leads you toward a willingness to be outward. Its 'metta', or loving-kindness, really does have the potential to make the world a better place. And that’s not fluffy. It could well be that compassion is part of our design. It’s just that we’re neglecting it, or forgotten about it. That we’ve lost some essential part of our better selves. But it’s eminently salvageable. Mindfulness will help you to remember your better self. Your basic goodness. Then you get to start again.
This better world can start with you and your mindful life.
Isn’t it good to think that your mindful life - right here, right now - can do that?
The work starts now.Posted in: