It kept me up three nights ago. My mind became busy and I got to thinking about mindfulness. I’m sure you’ve all heard the term by now. Mindfulness. “Paying attention to the present moment.” “Living fully in the present moment with awareness.” Sometimes “without judgement” is added. While searching the Internet, I came across this video on the Greater Good Magazine website featuring Jon Kabat-Zinn defining mindfulness in his words.
In the video, Kabat-Zinn talks about living the “story of me” without the realization that there is, in actuality, “no me.” Although I am not a follower of Kabat-Zinn, or any of the many mindfulness gurus out there today, I like what he has to say in this brief video. It’s not a new revelation, in fact it’s very old. His words echo the sages of long ago who carried forth the wisdom that there is, in essence, no “me.”
Three nights ago, I let this mind that inhabits “me” process the concept of mindfulness in terms of “my” perception of the current state of the world. Not so concerned with the “me,” but the “we,” my mind thought about the mindless actions that permeate our collective existence. In particular, I was thinking about the consequences that result from a mindless existence, or, rather, an existence so focused on the “me” of the ego that all else is neglected. The president of the United States is the archetype of this type of existence. The mindless ego unchecked by self awareness.
Last night, I had an hour in the car with my fourteen-year-old son, who initiated a conversation that, in essence, centered around mindfulness. He, like me, is deeply troubled by the world we live in and the mindless movement we have spiraled into, despite the current attempts to make “mindfulness” the “in thing.”
What’s the purpose of mindfulness if we can’t get passed the concept of the self as all important?
Since my eye-opening experience attempting to teach mindfulness to Montessori school teachers, and later yoga to their equally unmindful students, I’ve given a lot of thought to what “I” think mindfulness truly is. Simply stated, a mindful existence includes the realization that there are consequences to our actions, words and thoughts. The law of cause and effect is nothing new, but it’s been essentially forgotten in favor of our “me” obsessed world.
Am “I” breathing properly? Am “I” paying attention to the bird outside my window? Am “I” living in the present moment with full awareness?
This is a start, but not an end. This “I” living in the present moment must, eventually become aware of the “I” that is trying to live. Who am I? The I must eventually ask to fully understand itself. What am I doing? What am I thinking? What are the consequences to these thoughts and actions? How do I effect not only myself, but the world around me?
Until, eventually, the I realizes that there is no I, but a vast, limitless “we.”
The day before my sleepless night, I had been in a waiting room eavesdropping in on a conversation that was occurring at the front desk between two educators. When I over-heard one of them mention teaching in the town I live in, comparing the students to inner-city kids, my interest was piqued.
What I heard, in essence, was the frustration of an educator trying to teach in a classroom without consequences filled with kids living in the myopic world of “me.” And, I thought, it’s not only me, before I thought, how pervasive this disease of “me” really has become.
When I attempted to teach yoga to the Montessori children who exhibited rudely defiant behavior, I inquired about whether there was anything I could do to thwart their disrespect. What I discovered as that we are living in a time when, despite our obsession with “mindfulness,” there are few, if any, consequences to our mindless actions. How can we teach mindfulness behavior if we don’t teach the law of cause and effect?
When trying to discover the root of a group’s behavior, we must always look to the leader. It’s rather obvious that the leader of our “free” nation is living the antithesis of a truly mindful life. Instead, he exhibits all the rude, self-centered, and dangerous behavior of the ego out of control.
While I was not sleeping the other night, I thought about how the majority of the teachers at the conference I was invited to present at where not interested in, and in fact seemed to harbor a severe aversion to, engaging in self-awareness exercises. I realized that there really was no point in me trying to return to teach yoga to their students. Before yoga asana, must come a deep awareness of mindfulness and the laws of cause and effect.
I’ll admit, it’s not a “fun” process to really and truly examine the self and the self as a part of the whole, but it can be a deeply rewarding and enriching process. When one realizes that the self is simply a conglomeration of experiences and reactions to those experiences, folded into a cellular body, a process of detachment and non-judgement can result that leads to fascinating and enlightening discoveries about not only the “self,” but the self as a part of the whole.
The “I” easily forgets the “we,” as exhibited by the pervasive self-obsessed behavior that predominates our world at this time in history. We’re living a time that is artificially sped up and controlled by the false screen of the outer. With the tap of a screen a photo is taken of the “self” and then altered by another tap or two, to be artificially enhanced so that the “self” can appear more outwardly attractive than the “self” really is. Then the self awaits, mere seconds it can take, for the “likes” of the self to pile up. With a few short taps, the self’s words can be tweeted around the world and read by millions of followers. What a heady power trip that can be! Making the “self” feel all-important.
Then there is the flip side of this. The self that arrives at the self-realization that his or her individual self is not good enough. Will never be pretty enough, when compared to the false images of beauty held in front of it, or thin enough, successful enough, etc. And, so the self decides that its life is not worth living.
There is a desperate need in my own self to try, in whatever way my self can, to bring true mindfulness back to a world that appears to me so desperately in need of it. Behind the ego’s need for self dominance is fear. Fear of the self’s discovery of its own imperfections, and the often even greater fear that those imperfections will be seen by others. In the striving for the perfect self, the self fails to realize that perfection of the self will never, and can never be achieved, because the perfect “self” is, in actuality, the no-self.
When we realize we are beautifully imperfect, here to learn and to grow ever closer to love until the self becomes only love, life becomes filled with purpose and infused with the beautiful existence that is Life. We realize that each piece of life, our life, in fact, is a part of an intricate whole. No more than, or less than another, but unique in its conglomeration of parts and experiences. Our essence, in fact, realized, as equally important as our neighbor’s whether that neighbor is a fellow human, an animal, insect, stone, or plant. When a stone is removed from the earth, a hole remains. We are each, individually, part of a vast and intricate web of life beyond the comprehension of our individual minds. Each of us with a role to play, a life to live, that is infinitely more enriching for the self, and the whole, when lived mindfully with an awareness of cause and effect.