Advertisement

Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

“We are human beings who take form through an impetus to joy, interest, and concern”

A recent New York Times Blog by Judith Warner describes the author’s journey into mindfulness (http://warner.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/05/the-worst-buddhist-in-the-world/). The initial reaction of her husband was “I never thought that you, of all people, would get into that New Age stuff,”  That’s funny, Pema Chodron, whose work she is reading seems decidedly old age — 2500 years to be exact. The author describes the disorienting and perhaps even alienating effect when people around suddenly become less reactive — a consequence of embracing mindfulness practice. She notes this in one of her friends and sees it in herself interacting with an old friend. She cautions that mindfulness can be an extreme form of solipsism. I agree and I disagree. Americans often misappropriate mindfulness practice into something that becomes self-absorbed, but this is not inherent to the practice or the wisdom tradition from which it is derived. Mindfulness made significant mention in a special health issue of U.S. News and World Report. The work of Jon Kabat-Zinn and the Center for Mindfulness were featured, as well as the brain research of Richard Davidson in Madison. The cover image of the article shows a blissed out corporate woman sitting with her hands in mudra (ancient yoga-like postures for the hands). This is a stereotyped image of mindfulness and meditation in general. It suggests tranquility, transcendence, bliss, other-worldliness. And as with all stereotypes, the image is misleading and inaccurate. Transcendent piety is a caricature of mindfulness, cobbled from Buddhist images and through the marketing of meditation. We must be careful that such non-reactivity is authentic and not just our ego’s way of taking control of the situation. If we identify with the role of mindfulness we are missing the point. I tell my students that they will be more themselves rather then less if they travel this path. Transcendental piety could be evidence of what Chogyam Trunpga called spiritual materialism.
Judith Warner continues, “People who are embarked on this particular “journey of self-exploration,” tend to want to talk, or write, about it. A lot. But what they don’t realize — because they’re so in the moment, caught in the wonder and fascination and totality of their self-experience — is that their stories are like dream sequences in movies, or college students’ journal entries, or the excited accounts your children bring you of absolutely hilarious moments in cartoons — you really do have to be the one who’s been there to tolerate it.” I certainly have read such tracts, and have written my book Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness (http://108metaphors.com) as a reaction against this style. I’m not sure Warner has gotten beyond the cultural role of mindfulness. Mindfulness is rather ordinary. At its simplest, it represents a process of getting to know ourselves, becoming intimate with our experience, as the teacher Larry Rosenberg points out. It is not about getting beyond ourselves; it is, rather, being ourselves more completely. I discuss this issue in one of the chapters in Wild Chickens when I quote Thoreau, “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.”  Mindfulness is a matter-of-fact orientation to experience that is native and accessible to all. What people often talk and write about and sometimes act out is that caricature of mindfulness. And if this is ego-laden then it isn’t authentic mindfulness.
Warner, I think, misses the point when she say, “For the truth is, however admirable mindfulness may be, however much peace, grounding, stability and self-acceptance it can bring, as an experience to be shared, it’s stultifyingly boring.” I don’t get this. If mindfulness leads us to equanimity (e.g., peace, grounding, stability, self-acceptance) it can’t be boring. Equanimity is a translation of the Pali uppheka that can also be rendered as interest. We become keenly interested in what happens, even when that happening is quotidian. Mindfulness is a pervasive and permanent cure for boredom because this moment is always interesting no matter what is happening.
Warner cautions, “I’ve also come to wonder if something desirably human is being lost in all this new and improved selfhood. That is to say: an edge. That little bit of raggedness that for some of us is really the heart of what makes us human.” Would that mindfulness practice could smooth all these edges. The limerence of practice may suppress these edges but doesn’t remove them. Ram Dass lamented that after many decades of practice he still had the same neuroses. We don’t lose our edges, we just learn to manage them better — in ways that are less self-destructive and less harmful to others. “We are human beings who take form though an impetus to  joy, interest, and concern.” This is what I tell my students when they fear losing themselves and becoming mindful zombies — falling into the same misconception as Warner. When we move on the path of mindfulness we learn to strip away the conditionings that make us reactive and habitual. In the space created, we can then move towards experience based on joy, interest, and concern for other living beings and the environment in which we live. We can become unencumbered in this way, and what would be wrong with that?

Previous Posts

I Want my WiFi Now!
A recent adventure I had illustrates the limitations of the technology in certain places and how easily our expectations can give rise to a world of frustration. On Thursday March 12, I listened with great interest to Fresh Air that featured writer Fenton Johnson and his article in the April issu

posted 9:10:31am Mar. 24, 2015 | read full post »

The Train's Eye View of the Landscape
I am sitting on a train riding from Essex Junction, Vermont to Hartford Connecticut where I will be teaching my

posted 5:42:18pm Mar. 14, 2015 | read full post »

Mindfulness in Corporate America
Two recent articles in two major publications--The New York Times and The Atlantic--focused on the rising trend of mindfulness in corporate settings and both articles feature the recently published book by David Gelles: Mindful Work: How Meditation is Changing Business from the Inside Out. Mindfu

posted 11:28:56am Mar. 11, 2015 | read full post »

The Other Kind of PDF: Public Displays of Frustration
The world's number one ranked golfer, Rory McIlroy made a spectacle of himself yesterday during the World Golf Championship tournament at Doral. After pulling his long approach shot into the water on hole number 8, he then launched his 3-iron into the lake. It sailed 60 or 70 yards before splashing

posted 1:29:31pm Mar. 07, 2015 | read full post »

Mindful in Relationship: The Biggest Spiritual Challenge We Face
Our closest relationships are often the most challenging places to be mindful. We may be prone to feelings of unworthiness, superiority, and fear as well as a host of other feelings that push us around. When we can bring equanimity to our relationships we are progressing along the path. When we c

posted 7:56:20pm Mar. 02, 2015 | read full post »

Advertisement


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.