There is No Such Thing as Mindfulness
“Treat every moment as your last. It is not preparation for something else.”
― Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
Sometimes I look back over the whole arc of my life story and wonder what the hell I have been doing for the past 39 years.
What was it that guided me toward the choices that I have made, and how did I end up where I am now?
I am exceedingly grateful for what I have now. My life is rich and I have experienced so much good, including love and friendship, business success and creative fulfillment.
Somehow I have ended up here. Right where I am today. In a cozy little house with a wonderful partner and two silly little dogs.
But I have also experienced hardships.
I’ve lived in run-down shacks and tiny apartments, dealt with mice running through the walls and rain dripping down through the roof.
I went through a divorce. I’ve lost loved ones to cancer, suicide, and alcoholism.
Everything that I’ve experienced is all a part of who I am. My whole life makes up the me that I am today. Everything that I have been through is internalized in my Kokoro — the Japanese word that means “heart, mind, spirit”.
I have no illusions that things will always stay the same. In fact, the only constant in life is that nothing ever stays the same.
But I can hope that they don’t change dramatically. There is nothing wrong with that.
Eventually everything will change. And there is nothing wrong with that.
We judge everything that happens and all of our choices too much.
We say: This is good, that is bad. Sometimes, though with the help of time and perspective, we can see that the bad thing turned out to have good consequences and the good thing turned out to have bad consequences.
We hear endless stories about the rich and famous, who we consider lucky and fortunate, losing control and spiraling into depression, drugs, and divorce.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter how famous we are or how much money we have. In the end we are all just human beings, just living creatures that are born to live and die.
How we spend the time that we have in between birth and death — that is the only thing that really matters.
“Whether we are doing something good and worthwhile with our lives or not, time never waits but keeps flowing. Not only does time flow unhindered, but correspondingly our life too keeps moving onward all the time. If something has gone wrong, we cannot turn back time and try again. In that sense, there is no genuine second chance. Hence, it is crucial for a spiritual practitioner constantly to examine his or her attitudes and actions. If we examine ourselves every day with mindfulness and mental alertness, checking our thoughts, motivations, and their manifestations in external behavior, a possibility for change and self-improvement can open within us. Although I myself cannot claim with confidence to have made any remarkable progress over the years, my desire and determination to change and improve is always firm. From early morning until I go to bed and in all situations of life, I always try to check my motivation and be mindful and present in the moment. Personally, I find this to be very helpful in my own life.”
-The Dalai Lama, The World Of Tibetan Buddhism
I don’t know how mindfulness became such a commodity. There is nothing nice or clean or neat about mindfulness.
Mindfulness is not a new Ikea knick-knack.
When we stop rushing about in a flurry of activity for a moment, and touch the deep current of mindfulness, we find our own personal heaven and our own self-created hell waiting patiently for us. Everything about our lives becomes naked and raw. When we enter that flow of mindfulness there are no illusions there to comfort us.
Mindfulness is really fucked up. When you think about it, there really is no such thing as “mindfulness”. You either are being mindful or you are not.
But we have to call the effort to be mindful something.
Perhaps it is much better to be unconscious, to simply slide through the world until our last breath catches us unawares.
But of course I don’t really believe that.
Nobody who slides through the world unconsciously is really alive. They will always have unanswered questions lingering in the back of their minds: Am I missing something important, is there a greater purpose to my life, am I fulfilling my potential, and ultimately will I ever be happy?
There is no deep contentment without awareness. This is what we all are really looking for. Not happiness, but the contentment that allows us to let go of the white-knuckled grasp we have on our lives.
The only way to increase our peace and contentment is to develop our most important Meta-Skill: Mindfulness. In order to wade into that mucky pit of awareness (full of the blood, gore, and shit of our lives) and learn who we really are and what is real, we have to set aside fear.
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
-Frank Herbert, Dune
What we find when we plunge into the river of mindfulness is that our minds are not connected to our bodies. We find that we live in an endless fight and flight mode, our minds and bodies constantly in battle with imaginary enemies. The end result of all this warfare is exhaustion and discontentment.
All we really want is peace, love, and all that other hippy shit.
So how do we shut down that imaginary battle that raged within us? How do we reconnect our minds to our bodies to our spirits and become whole?
“We go from birth to death. Three out of ten follow life. Three out of ten follow death. People who rush from birth to death are also three out of ten. Why is that so? Because they want to make too much of life.”
-Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
When I look back over my life I realize there really has only been one common thread, out of which my passion for nature and writing is spun, and that one thread is mindfulness.
Awhile ago, after decades of pursing mindfulness, I had decided that I was a dismal failure.
But that wasn’t really the truth. My pursuit of mindfulness had been successful. The problem was that I was measuring my proficiency with the wrong yardstick.
I’m not on a path that needs absolution or redemption. Buddhism taught me a lot about the nature of reality, but I don’t believe that perfection is obtainable because I don’t believe in perfection. Christianity put the fear of hell in me but I don’t believe in actual gods or devils, other then the ones that live inside of us.
Mindfulness involves trudging through the muck and shit of life, completely aware of it all, and not passing judgement.
Mindfulness involves placing ourselves directly in the space and time where we are.
Mindfulness involves opening up our senses without fear.
Mindfulness can certainly enhance sex, drugs, and rock n roll, just as much as it can enhance a meditation session, or a rock and roll jam.
Mindfulness doesn’t care. Mindfulness doesn’t give a shit about what we do or how we do it — it is always there to be experienced.
Mindfulness is the ultimate punk rock rebellion against the status quo.
“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.”
The status quo likes to pretend that everything is fine just the way it is. The status quo likes to say that the secret to happiness will be revealed if you follow the status quo path from point A to point B to point C, and acquire a two story house with two kids and two dogs and two cars and two jobs.
The status quo has no fucking idea what the hell it is talking about. The status quo is mad as a hatter.
Take a look around in a Whole Foods parking lot to gauge the level of happiness that the status quo can bring you.
We actually find our peace and contentment in life by going directly toward our weird fucked-up strange way of being in this world and really owning it.
Religions are obsolete. Happiness isn’t bestowed upon us by a fictional superhero or the status quo, it comes bubbling up from within.
“I saw the water coming down like a curtain which was thrown from the top of the mountain. It doesn’t come down swiftly, as I expected. It comes down very slowly, because of the distance.
And the water comes down in some group. Water does not come down as one whole river. The water separated in many groups. It comes down like a curtain. I thought it may be very hard experience for each water to come down such a high mountain, from the top to the bottom. It takes time, you know. It takes so long until it…the water reach to the bottom of the waterfall. And I thought our life is maybe like that. We have many hard experiences in our life, but at the same time, I thought, the water is not originally separated. It is one whole water. When it is separated like that the water has some feeling. When it is one whole water, the water do not have any feeling.”
Mindfulness is the Meta-Skill that enhances and illuminates every other skill or talent or relationship. It is the Way, the Truth, and the Light — whoever becomes mindful shall have eternal life. Until they die, of course.
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