It’s not surprising when a feature on mindfulness appears in a major media outlet. Mindfulness is popular. This time it is a sub-four minute interview on NPR. Tamara Keith spoke with Sharon Salzberg, one of the co-founders of the Insight Meditation Society and recent author of Real Happiness at Work (a book I read, enjoyed and found useful). You can listen to the interview here.
While I applaud the exposure, I felt that the interview commodified mindfulness. Mindfulness is for stress relief. They felt a need to add beach sounds to the beginning of some meditation instructions. Really? Can’t we just sit with a little silence? Do we have to resort to cliche? Even the image used to adorn the story, reproduced here, perpetuates myths about mindfulness. Why can’t this gentlemen be working and mindful?
In her unassuming way, Salzberg said some profound things, bit of wisdom that could change your life in radical fashion. She describes mindfulness as getting beyond our biases for experience. That is, jettisoning rules, pre-conceived ideas, and so forth. This is nothing short of freedom. The usual way of perceiving, by implication, is bondage.
We are very attached to our rules. We each carry around a rule book, filled with implicit and explicit rules. It’s a code of conduct for ourselves and others. It contains a litany of hopes, and is dedicated to comfort, convenience, and consistency. Freedom lives beyond these rules.
The Xinxinming is an ancient Chinese poem written by Sengcan. The first few lines in this translation from Richard B. Clarke (presented in Mu Soeng’s, Trust in Mind: The Rebellion of Chinese Zen) boldly asserts:
The Great Way is not difficult
for those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent
everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.
Sharon Salzberg alludes to the same sentiment. When you stop pushing and pulling against your experience, you can open to what is with clarity and peace. Heaven and earth are together. Persist in holding to opinions and buttressing your sense of self worth with these opinions than you are afflicted with what Sengcan calls “the disease of the mind.”
We don’t become tasteless, colorless, and inert when we give up these preferences. Instead, we become unencumbered. With all the space created by ending the ceaseless parade of likes and dislikes we can breathe, rest, and get perspective on life.