I watch the documentary “Happy People: A Year in the Taiga” a few times a year and I have yet to reach a place of being unimpressed with what the people on the movie are capable of. Watching someone make cross-country skis from a tree using a hatchet, a wedge and some fire is amazing, as are the canoes and traps and cabins they build. It seems like magic in our convenience-oriented modern way of doing things.
We live in a world that celebrates dabbling rather than doing something deeply and with excellence.
Many of the things that are hobbies now used to be lifestyles, and people used to be much better at them. Look back at how humans were able to build cities and cathedrals and even just stay alive in harsh climates because of the crafts they cultivated over lifetimes and passed down from generation to generation.
I see this in the study of mind and working on mindfulness as many people only want it for a certain situation or to help with a specific issue, like anxiety or anger. We are a culture of dabblers, of people who jump from one thing to the next to the next so rapidly that we know a little about a lot of things. We are able to do less and less, yet we have less time than people used to have to do what we want. It is rare that I meet someone with deep knowledge of a field or a skillset. This is what so much convenience has brought us.
So, with this is mind, I thought it might be good to push the topics I had planned for this week back, and spend a full seven days looking at different aspects of living mindfully. To be clear, I am not claiming to have a deep knowledge of mindfulness or to be someone who cultivates it as fully as I would like, but trying is something that dominates my learning and my day-to-day life. I have also found that I write this blog for myself as much as anyone else, so this week will help me come into a more mindful way of being as well.
So, a few things to remember:
There is nothing special about being mindful, despite the overtones so many try to assign it. It is about being present, about experiencing your experience instead of judging and assessing it. Many would argue it is more of a returning to our natural state than trying to do something new – it is only new to us because we live in a state of distraction and obsession with our thoughts about situations.
Nonjudgment and acceptance are key components of being present. We are not experiencing situations when we judge them, but dealing with them through our thoughts about them. I encourage people to go a step beyond this and embrace things as they are, not wishing they were ever any different.
It’s not about becoming passive or letting people walk all over us. In fact, I believe it is a much more intentional and active engagement with reality as we shift away from how we wish things to were to trying to deal with them as they are. When we do need to address something with someone, we can do it mindfully and with compassion rather than anger and hurt, and we are more likely to actually address things with people when we are not deceiving ourselves about how we feel about them.
It is a discipline. You will fail constantly. I fail constantly. It’s about understanding that as soon as you realize you are distracted, you have become mindful again. That is everything.
Begin today. Below is one of my favorite versions of a mindfulness meditation, pulled from the book Dharma Punx by Noah Levine. Try it out. There is a (very rough) guided meditation on the media page of this website if that is more your speed, and there are hundreds on YouTube that will be more polished than mine. However you do it, just do it.
See you tomorrow.
Find a comfortable place to sit, with the back straight, but not rigid. Allowing the body to just breathe naturally, bring the attention to the most noticeable point of touch where the breath makes contact as it enters the nostrils.
Bring the awareness to the sense of touch of the air as it passes in and passes out. Keep your attention at one precise point and note the sensation that accompanies each breath as it flows in and flows out of the body in the natural breathing process.
If the attention strays, bring it back to the point where you notice the breath as it comes and at the nostrils. Noting “breathing in; breathing out.” Not thinking about the breath. Not even visualizing it. Just being with the sensation as it arises with the touch of the air passing in and out of the nostrils.
Sounds arise. Thoughts arise. Other sensations arise. Let them all be in the background, arising and passing away.
In the foreground is the moment-to-moment awareness of the sensation of the breath coming and going. Not pushing anything away. Not grasping at anything. Just clear, precise, gentle observation of the breath. Mindfulness of breathing.
Sensations arise in the body. Thoughts arise in the mind. They come and go like bubbles.
Each mind moment is allowed to arise and allowed to pass away of its own momentum. No pushing away of the mind, no grasping at the breath. Just gently returning awareness to the sensations always present with the coming and the going of the breath. Gently returning.
The awareness of breath is foreground. In the background, everything else is as it is.
Each breath is unique: sometimes deep, sometimes shallow, always slightly changing. The whole breath felt going in, stopping, and coming out; the whole breath experienced at the level of sensation, of touch.
Breathing just happening by itself. Awareness simply watching. The whole body relaxed. Eyes soft. Face relaxed. Shoulders loose. The belly full and easy. No holding anywhere. Just awareness and breathing.
Just consciousness and the object consciousness, arising and passing away moment to moment in the vast space of mind.
Don’t get lost. If the mind pulls away, gently, with a soft, non- judging, non-clinging awareness, return to the breath. Note the whole breath, from its beginning to its end, precisely, clearly, from sensation to sensation.
The body breathes by itself. The mind thinks by itself. Awareness simply observes the process without getting lost in the content.
Each breath is unique. Each moment is completely new.
If sensation should arise in the body, let the awareness recognize it as sensation. Notice it coming and notice it going. Not thinking of it as a body or as leg, as pain or as vibration. Simply noting it as sensation and returning to the breath.
The whole process occurring by itself. Awareness observing, moment-to-moment, the arising and passing away of experiences in the mind and body. Moment-to-moment change.
Surrender to the present. Experience the breath. Don’t try to get anything from the breath. Don’t even think of concentration. Just allow awareness to penetrate to the level of sensations that arise of themselves and by themselves.
The point of touch becoming more and more distinct, more intense with the coming and going of each breath.
The mind becoming one-pointed on sensations that accompany breathing.
If thoughts arise, clearly note their motion in mind, rising and passing away like bubbles. Notice them, and return to the mindfulness of the breathing.
If thought or feeling becomes predominant, with an open awareness, softly note what is predominant as “feeling” or “thinking,” as “hearing,” as “tasting,” as “smelling.” Then, gently return to the breath.
Don’t tarry with thought. Don’t identify contents. Just note the experience of thought entering and passing away, of feeling, of any sense, arising in the moment and passing away in the next moment.
Return to the even flow of the breath. Not grasping anything. Not pushing anything away. Just a clear awareness of what predominates in the mind or body as it arises.
Returning deeply to the intense point of sensation that marks the passage of the air of each full breath.
The eyes soft. Shoulders soft. Belly soft. The awareness crystal clear.
Subtler and subtler sensations become predominant. Thoughts become predominant. Each one noted clearly within the concentrated awareness of breathing.
Watch its motion, continual change from object to object, breath to breath, sensation to sensation. Like a kaleidoscope, continual change.
Moment-to-moment objects arise and pass away in the vast space of mind, of body. An easy, open awareness simply observing the process of arising and passing away. Awareness of whatever is predominant, returning to the sensations of the breath.
Feelings arise. Thoughts arise. The “planning mind,” the “judging mind.” Awareness experiences the process of their movement. It doesn’t get lost in content. Observe thought passing through the vast space of mind.
These words arising from nothing, disappearing into nothing, just open space in which the whole mind, the whole body, are experienced as moment-to-moment change.
Sound arises and passes away. Feeling arises and passes away. All of who we are, of what we think we are, moment to moment, coming and going, bubbles in mind, arising, passing away in the vast, open space of mind. Choiceless awareness. Moment- to-moment awareness of whatever arises, of whatever exists.
All things that have the nature to arise have the nature to pass away. Everything we think of as “me” is disappearing moment to moment.
Moment to moment, Knowing the truth of each experience.