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Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Wisdom Wednesday :: Montaigne on Reason

buddha_studio_1.jpgMontaigne said he preferred the “company of peasants because they have not been educated sufficiently to reason incorrectly.” This bit of wisdom applies to the path of Buddhist meditation too. The smarter we are the more we may place obstacles in our spiritual path. 


The mind wants to grasp the pratice intellectually, to understand it, and control it. Buddhism appeals to many because of its rich intellectual tradition and its cognitive psychology. However, once we are on the cushion, intellect is something to overcome. It can be a useful tool for framing understanding, but it is not how we practice.

Mindfulness is a practice of awareness and this engages different parts of the brain than discursive reasoning. If we intellectualize awareness we have put something in the way of awareness. 

At the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts (a place with a lot of intellect), Larry Rosenberg cautioned, “Even a bubblehead could do this practice.” He was admonishing us not to think too much about the practice. The practice is the doing of being, not the thinking of being. William James, also speaking from Cambridge but 100 years ago, said that our intellectual life is comprised almost wholly by substituting a conceptual order for the perceptual order in which our experience originally lives. He got it right.

Intellect can be a hard thing to let go of. It can be subtle, disguising itself in spiritual concepts –even ones explicit to mindfulness. So much of our identity is bound up in how we think; and we are loathe to give up our precious attachment to this aspect of identity. The more we practice, the more sneaky these attachments can become. Everyone on the path is at risk for identifying with being a meditator. This is not the point. Meditation is the vehicle and also the natural expression of our being.

Beware of being a “good” meditator or having a “successful” meditation. What do these adjectives really mean? If we can be a good meditator, we can be a bad meditator. I guess a bad meditator is one who has a lot of “unsuccessful” meditation sessions. Again, what does this really mean? Meditation is meditation. Our job is to pay attention to what is happening now without an agenda. Whatever happens is the landscape of now and our job is to be with it — not judge it and evaluate it. 

Some meditation sessions will feel great — relaxing, subtle pulsations of joy, bliss. Others will be dense, dull, and distracted. Our minds tend to think the former is “better” than the latter. Not so, I would contend. Sitting is sitting. There is no way to do it wrong. The only way we can get to wrong is from the vantage point of agendas — expectations on outcome. Mindfulness is the process of being. 

Enjoy that process!

  • Rachele

    Thank you! I have found myself becoming irritated with “bad” meditation. Which then puts more stress on myself the next time, when I try harder. But that works me backwards. To meditate is to NOT try. Thank you so much!

  • http://louellabryant.com Ellie

    Thank you, Doctor K, for this psychic realignment and for chasing away the self-criticism demons, those persistent devils. Joyful Thanksgiving to you, and I hope to be back on the cushion next week.

  • Colleen

    Thank you for this information. I LOVE it, and it clearly explains more about why I don’t have mind chatter. I’m a “bubblehead”, and grateful for that. LOL:>) Not having engaged in formal education probably is a great gift. I honestly don’t understand why people struggle with the practice of meditation.
    Ernest Holmes, in “Science of Mind” writes, there is often “too much theory and not enough practice”. Are some folks trying to fit the practice into a certain theory? Are we trying too hard to think things through and explain too much? Are we more rigid with ourselves than we need to be? Do we have too many expectations? For me, meditation and living a mindful life means letting go of all the theory, thoughts, expectations and explainations. It means being open to information in a new and different way and letting go of what we think we know.
    I am grateful to have had a mother/teacher who reinforced the idea of carrying the energy of joy and humor everywhere. As she was moving into a terminal care facility because of a brain tumor that was ending her life, she said: “There’s not enough joy in this place”, and she managed to bring humor, joy, the curiosity of a child and unconditional love with her as she passed from this earth school. She was always in the moment with love and curiosity. I am very grateful for the gift of learning from her:>)

  • Tara

    This is so true. It reminds me of what Wayne Dyer pointed out in a video of his–that our bodies just “formed” while in the womb. We can just “be” and let things happen. There are times that we need to just let go of the intellectual side of ourselves and just feel things for a change.

  • Your Name

    meditation is a good exercise to reallign yourself to be always at the balance,or at the middle.anyway,my own meditation practice is not sitting or following all these theories of science meditation.i simply reallign myself by closing my eyes and meditate on what the Bible is saying about life’s troubles,i just follow the counsel of the forefathers in the Bible,and i listen to my pastor at the church sermons and what God wants me to discern and if it brings God glory honor and praise ,i know that i am putting myself balance.Again,meditation is a good science practice,but there s nothing like meditating the truth of the words of God that can create a miraculous balance and outcome of what were trying to achieve during meditation,for God’s word is very poweful liek double edge sword,when we meditate the word right,we achieve miraculous outcome.thanks!

  • diana

    Blessings to all of you that have responded and to you especially,Dr. K, for easily making the present moment the real deal……so easy to struggle and slip into the judgment demons…..thanks for bringing it all back to our experience as we feel our way through it…..

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