your mindful life
Jan 1, 2019
For what it’s worth, my own quest for a mindful life side-stepped any epiphanic moment of self-awareness.
It wasn’t sudden, or momentous, it just emerged: 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, the muttering at fellow drivers on a particular stretch of arterial road in a small patch of a county in a country that was already in the full throes of losing its collective mind.
Then there was (and still is) the rumination: the persistent voice, ‘bitter as the cud’, that arises, until it got to the point when I had to ask: just who the hell are you talking to? Thankfully mindfulness offered some respite from that. Science helped too; with evidence for mindfulness as a potentially consoling reality: for instance, the voice in your head? Science says that particular reality has been around as a default mode for millions of years; that it’s not just me (or you), that it’s partly evolutionary psychology. Just getting to know that is a good place to start your mindful life. Science also helps dispel the myth that mindfulness is some religious thing, or that it’s about emptying your mind of thoughts and 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 pretty good at reminding you of that too as it elucidates or riffs upon common sense themes. For instance, it turns out that the voice in your head is nothing more than a self-referential reiteration of ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘mine’. Just stopping to reflect upon that observation gives you a feeling of common senseness. You’ll also get a manual for taming the impetuous little saboteur, although you’ll fail time and time again to do so. But instead of getting desperate or frustrated about it mindfulness will teach you how to cultivate curiosity about it. How to cultivate 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 the liquidity of conscious awareness. But it’s what makes for a mindful life.
Then there’s taking your meds. Yes you have to meditate. Meditation is the boot camp. Reps for the mind: a 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, in bed, 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 instead choose to make the ethical decision to recycle instead. It just requires conscious awareness and effort. It just requires common sense. Of course, you could go for the cognitive approach by acquiring a bunch of heuristics to bail you out, but it’s best to start with what the body is telling you. 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 shoot off down some conceptualising highway. However it is the body that can really help with navigating the liquidity of conscious awareness. The body is where the work starts, and with practice 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, 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 leading to outwardness. Its 'metta', or loving-kindness, that has the potential to make the world a better place.
This better world can start with you and your mindful life.
Isn’t it good to think that your mindful life - right here, now - can do that?Posted in: