Moving mindfulness: making the transition from sitting meditation to engaged, moment to moment wakefulness
The effort of living versus the peacefulness of meditation - a false dichotomy
Many practitioners of mindfulness will recognise a feeling that while their lives are definitely enriched in a profound way, there is sometimes still a feeling that actually living life - paying the bills, feeding the children, going to work, dealing with situations - is demanding but sitting in meditation, on the other hand, is a refuge.
Meditation is not a happy trip
This is not the case for all meditators. Meditation is not supposed to be a technique for getting high or managing to “attain” anything. In fact, trying to “attain” is evidence of the very problematic thinking that the practitioner may be able to transcend with practice.
The reality is that the same peace that is available to us when we are in “zazen” sitting meditation is just a mindset switch away from us while we are in the thick of it. Sounds great, doesn't’ it? But it doesn’t seem very feasible when you’re behind on a deadline and your laptop is running painfully slow. Nope. You’re too good at your practice for that kind of trivia to affect you? Let’s imagine you’ve just lost your job or someone you love has been diagnosed with cancer.
The point is that nothing you can do in meditation is ever going to stop any of the negative stuff from happening. It is ironic really that when we look at one of the great stories of a religion that is strongly associated with meditation - Buddhism - we see the young Siddhartha Gautama being sheltered from suffering by his parents. Every kind of misfortune is hidden from him. One day he decides to sneak out of his living quarters and he is taken around the town by a chaperone where he sees poverty, sickness and death. Meditation will not stop poverty, sickness or death - for you or anyone else.
Likewise, in Christianity, salvation and the spiritual path are not going to save anybody from poverty, sickness and death. Jesus himself suffered greatly before, it is believed, he was then crucified, and he is the the father, the son and the holy spirit for Christians.
Positive actions in a negative environment
The point then is that it is naive to think that meditation practice or faith in Jesus is going to somehow ensure that nothing unfortunate happens to you or around you. That said, meditation practice and faith in Jesus may help you become more effective in dealing with life (as a psychological mechanism). By controlling our own behaviours, our emotional response and our mindset we are controlling several behaviours that give rise to outcomes. Just because you do have the right attitude, think the right thoughts and take the right actions does not mean you still won’t get a kick in the face. As Stallone’s Rocky character said, “It’s not how hard you can hit. It’s how hard you can be hit and keep moving forward.”
What I have tried to achieve in this post so far is to deliver a realistic expectation of what mindfulness practice or any kind of spiritual or psychological improvement practice should be about. It is not about achieving every goal you ever wished for or obtaining every “thing” your heart desires. If that is still how you think you will find contentment or happiness you are reading the wrong post. It that is still how you think you will find contentment, somebody lied to you and you need to cleanse that kind of thinking from your mind because it will only lead to frustration and unhappiness.
What can I expect from mindfulness then?
There are a tonne of social media memes that point to the real truth but it doesn’t seem to sink in for most of mankind. You may be able to have some influence on the outside world but the vast majority of what’s going on around you is out of your control. The sooner you deal with that, the quicker you can make a difference where it counts - yourself. Guess who is in full control of your self?
When people meditate for the first time, one of the first things they notice is the sheer volume of visual, auditory and sensory thoughts and feelings they are hit with. Of course meditation practice teaches them how to still the pond but these mental entities will still arise by themselves. So we are not in full control of our inner world either. The thing that needs to change is the self.
What is this thing called self?
The truth of self is “no-self”. Self is an illusion. At best, self is the overall deduction of who we are based on all memories and experiences up to the present moment, and our state of mind is the result of a complex moment to moment calculation based on the “self” variable, the desires and expectations of that “self”, its perception of what’s happening “to it” and how that perception compares with the desires and expectations that “it” has. That was a tricky sentence to write. It may be a tricky one to read so feel free to read it again.
How can that possibly be a self. Our memories are not set in stone. Sometimes they are not encoded properly. The editing can be terrible both in terms of what bits of perceived reality we choose not to remember and which bits we take with us. Memories often corrupt with time. As for experience itself, it is only ever in this moment, so we are relying on memories, which are faulty, for our grasp of previous experiences.
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