Saturday, October 13, 2012

Why Be Mindful?

Mindfulness practice is popping up all over the country in spiritually minded communities almost as much as yoga studios are proliferating. The idea of being mindful is forwarded to repeated so often that it's in danger of being worn out. One hesitates to say it, but use of the term has become almost... unmindful.

I can liken the idea of being unmindful to Gurdjieff's idea of being asleep, or his idea of being mechanical, which is a gong he hammered on relentlessly when speaking to Ouspensky. Things which are not mindful, not conscious, proceed mechanically, that is, automatically. They can't change direction. If there is a wall in front of them, they smack into it. So to have a lack of attention is to have a lack of direction.

 Yet this can be taken in both an inner and an outer sense. The danger of emphasis on mindful practice the way it is being passed on today is that the emphasis seems to be on using it to deal with daily life, to fix things.

It is directed outwardly. The understanding is that it will help me be more compassionate, more patient, more considerate towards others, and so on. All of this is an excellent goal; and it speaks to the impulse human beings have to fix what is wrong with themselves (and, in most cases unfortunately, others.) Yet  suddenly, I see that I am employing it to try and get things I want, or think I need, whereas it actually needs to exist quite independently of desire.

This outwardly directed action obviates the entire inner point of the practice.

 Mindfulness, as practiced in an inner sense, is meant to direct the soul towards God. Towards this end, it has no connection to the outside world; not directly, anyway. And all of the effects that it has on one's outer manifestations and actions are incidental to the aim, which is solely and exclusively to move one's heart towards an openness to God. What all the masters tell us, after all, is that man's great purpose in life is to become conscious of God, and our relationship to Him. Mindful practice, attention, directed towards this effort is not directed towards being a better person in life. It has a different, sacred, secret, intimate, and inner purpose that is not attached to life.

This doesn't mean that I throw my life away, or that I chop my practice into small pieces which are separated from one another. It doesn't mean that exoteric, outer, practice is unnecessary. It doesn't mean I should not try to be a better person. But it does mean that there is a sacred thread, a golden thread, that is supposed to tie my mindfulness to a relationship with a higher energy, in an action that is not attached to the outside world.

 When I understand mindfulness, in most instances of its arising, as a practice tied to this or that external moment, I both understand and don't understand at the same time. I have half of it right; but the half that I have right is the half that is easy to understand. With all due respect to my own practice, I need to remind myself that even monkeys can understand this kind of thing.

I am called on to be more than a monkey. This means that mindfulness needs to be directed inwardly towards the unknown; towards a gentle attention which values and participates in mystery, not stress reduction and being nice to poor people. Mindfulness must be practiced, in other words, on more than one level, and the levels that touch the unknown are the levels that I need to be most attentive to.

 It's important, I think, not to vulgarize the practice of mindfulness—to make it common and coarse by tying it too much to worldly goals and circumstances.

It is, after all, so decisively intended as a form of prayer.

I respectfully hope you will take good care.

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