On Being Mindful

~ You are a mountain; thoughts are clouds.

This is a meditative mantra I have developed for myself. I find that it helps me from time to time. It comes from my rather haphazard practice of mindfulness over the years. I wish to speak on my journey with the craft, its inherent complexity and the continued nuance with which I try to perceive the art given the full context being a conscious person affords it.

The meaning of my mantra should become clear to you, if it isn’t already, as you read my thoughts on mindfulness and all the rest I am about to go into here. Take a seat, legs crossed, hands at dhyana, and breathe. Let’s go.

Part 1: Mindfulness as practice

‘Mindfulness’ came to me years ago now, during college, when I was recommended a book by my brother: The Miracle of Mindfulness. Grandly titled, written by a legendary Buddhist monk named Thích Nhất Hạnh, and serving as an easily read introduction into the esoterically compelling thing known as ‘mindfulness,’ I took up the recommendation and read it. I was at a point in my life where I was dealing with the stress of my later college years, where classes became “serious” and job prospects, internship offers, and the beginning of the long path of the rest of life loomed large.

During this time in my life, I was also at a point where I followed absolutely no practice of spirituality, religious or otherwise; there was no transcendent God or Heaven residing within my heart or mind any longer. Long ago had I left the church into which I was born and raised. Considerations of God, the good place and the bad place, and all the dogmas of my childhood no longer harried my little head. None of it was any longer within my mental purview; for better or worse, discarded without a second thought. Whether agnostic, atheist or still awaiting some other such label or kind of belief or non-belief, I was adrift purely in the world of the material. Maybe not entirely, given my interest in philosophy and literature and abstract ideals and all manner of art … But you get my idea: I wielded no well-defined or structured spiritual discipline of any kind within the days of my life. In retrospect, it is easy to see how this unconsciously weighed upon me {especially because it does so today, right now, right this moment}. I envied the security such beliefs offered so many others in the world. I believed I had simply learned enough of the world and the implications of religious belief {namely, Christianity} that I could not honestly abide such a thing in my heart ever again {for many, many reasons. Another post for another day}. This left a void in me. Perhaps it was always there. Forever call me an absurd boy in an indifferent cosmos. But now, in my aging and movement into the world of adulthood, the responsibilities and the necessity for certain bonds and relationships therein, this void would come to take on a different meaning. I didn’t have the time or self-awareness to fully grapple with it back then, not yet. I was much too busy trying to do my readings, pass my tests, have some fun…

I was reading something recently that theorized ‘subjective experience,’ consciousness itself, as something that may simply be beyond the capacity of science to ever explain. With all our advancements thus far in biology, neuroscience and the study of animals all along the spectrum of intelligence — and even our increasingly impressive machines — we do not seem close to cracking the code of our human consciousness. How many other things are there that are beyond science, beyond our reason? Instantly, we can think of one: God. And yet, He is an integral and enduring part of so many people’s lives. Thusly, just as our consciousness will always be intuitively fascinating for its mystery, and endlessly studied until we gain ground upon those mysteries, there will always be this deep yearning for some kind of spiritual experience in our life. We want to believe there is something mystical about our self and our mind and our place here in this chaotic universe. I am no different. My issues always came in the form of accepting certain assumptions and dogmas and divine ‘truths’ not worthy of the name inherent to a belief in the named Gods of institutional religion. A belief in any God would require from me some kind of evidence, and yet that defeats the whole concept of faith, doesn’t it? Alas, alas…

So my absurd longing for a context to the largeness of our existence here had theretofore gone unsatisfied. And this existential dread of my godless isolation in the world had truly only just begun to take hold, the roots watered by the eventual retrospectively perceived meaninglessness of all those business school examinations in post, and my escalating introversion, solitude, anxiety, depressions. All of it was on the way. But it wasn’t there yet. Not when I read Miracle. And so, I learned of mindfulness. Not in any kind of desperate search for what it might provide to me in a spiritual sense, but from my customary curiosity for all things dealing in ideas, abstractions, concepts and disciplines. As a childhood reader of Batman, I always likened myself as a detective into all worldly matters. Mindfulness was just another investigation, something to seize my mind for a spell.

~

Firstly, I learned of the “monkey mind” — the Buddhist metaphor expounding upon the ceaseless churning of the thoughts in our mind. Like monkeys in a grand forest, leaping from tree to tree, chattering and screaming, hooting and hollering and shitting all over the place, our mind is often a furious jungle of unchecked and unconscious motion. Who can’t relate to this? The older we get, the more experience gathered and responsibilities taken on, the more monkeys that seem to take up residence in our mind, and the louder they holler. These vitalized monkeys take the express lane through the jungle jumping from vine to vine. And so do our minds move from thought to thought, branch to branch, unconsciously and without our designs or discretions. Our restlessness becomes exhausting, if yet entirely unacknowledged. Cyclically, this can lead to more ground being ceded to the apes. All of it, for most modern folks unable to control their attention for more than minutes {or a minute} at a time.

For one beginning to learn of mindfulness and the problem it proposes to address, we come to find that we reside in a ‘default state.’ It’s the state of mind filled to the brim with the churning rumination — the anxieties, worries, anticipations of the future, near and far, reflections of regrets and nostalgia-tinged memories that have no current bearing on our coming actions — all of the stuff in play within our mind’s endless jungle. Without our designs to firmly grasp the reigns, the mind just goes and goes, pin-balling from seemingly being in our control one moment, for one decision, to sprinting off in a tangent the next, burning through thoughts, wasting time, making us restless or angry or sad. As we chase our mind along its branching ruminations, one might consider it as a dream. And it is one we are not lucid for. We go about our day, caught in routines and tasks, worries for the future, condemnations from the past. ‘Our’ day loses its sense of ownership, if we let it. Living in a dream, chasing the chain reaction of our thoughts, always reacting and never present — this is the picture of the average human being and their mentality.

Presence.

This was the purpose of the practice of mindfulness, as told by the book. Mindfulness was a way to wrest control of your inner jungle and the monkeys within it. In short, it just meant paying attention, in a micro-sense, in the moment-to-moment minutia of your life. Mindfulness meditation would come later. To begin, one had to familiarize themselves with the basic concept of the practice’s first principle. The earliest and most memorable example I can remember from the book, because it resonated with me, was the simple concept of washing a dish. At your sink, after having eaten when you are washing a dirty dish, you can practice mindfulness by … washing the dish. Meaning, don’t think about what show you are about to watch, or what happened at school or work that day, or that you wish you didn’t have to wash the dish, or that you need to go grocery shopping tomorrow or that you have a date the day after, or … anything. Just wash the dish. Focus on the dish and do the work that needs to be done in that moment. Be present. Wash the dish. That’s all there is to it.

All thoughts, and all states of mind — whether good or bad — have an inherent tendency to perpetuate. To snowball and become cyclical, to continue down the way they are going, amplifying and compounding over time. Mindfulness is an out. A way to reset, breathe, and remember that ‘you are a mountain, and all these mad thoughts, all this chaos going on within your mind, are clouds.’

But then, by the words of Hanh, the object of mindfulness can be anything. The dish. Your breaths, as in meditation. The sky. Another person’s face or words. The beating of your heart. The subtle sensations all throughout your body. Mindfulness can act as a master key into anything entering consciousness. The work involves the squaring of your attention to just that.

And so, the telos of mindfulness is just about paying attention. For me, to simplify matters when thinking or speaking on it, it was about washing that dish.

Rad. I could get behind this. I got it. Or at least, I thought I did. There is a certain power, of a practical and spiritual kind, in this idea of presence. As in all ingenious things, it’s right there, right underneath our noses, graspable with ameliorating immediacy yet missing from our experience all this time. “Be present.” Of course! Why haven’t I just been present this whole fucking time! Well, now I will. As of now, right this moment, everything changes. Be present. Easy enough. Not really. Unsurprisingly, old habits return, distraction is summoned automatically, our default state rears its default head, and we forget all about being in the present moment. We are constantly forgetting about it. The importance of ‘being present’ only lasts about a moment. Of course, cultivating a mindful mind state takes work, it takes discipline and structure. A practice. This practice comes in the form of meditation.

In the simplest terms, it can be said that one can learn to meditate as long as they can count to two. Or even simpler, as long as they can breathe. 1–2. 1–2. Breath in, breath out. *Get lost in thought…* *Return to the breath.* Those are the bare-bones components of the practice. When it comes to mindfulness meditation specifically, this is where one begins and ends. The alpha and the omega. It will never get anymore complex than this.

Put more poetically, mindfulness meditation comes down to “dispassionately observing the contents of your consciousness, moment to moment, breath by breath.” The purpose of the practice is to continuously bring your awareness back to your breath, the ready locus for the “presence” I keep referring to. Dispassionately is a key adverb. It means the aim is to observe your thoughts without emotion, without assigning your subjective value judgments to them as they come into your mindspace. This is difficult. Because they will come and we have evolved to judge them all. We want to judge so bad! Which is just another compounding and complicating thought. And contrary to preconceived notions, the practice of meditating is never a clearing of the mind, or an attempt at thinking of nothing. This is truly impossible for any awake, non-comatose person. {Hey reader, don’t think of a big pink elephant!}.

The practice of meditation: You take a moment, sitting, standing, walking, anything and anywhere {You don’t even need to be in silence, although it might make the practice much more difficult for you}. Your mind goes, you observe your thoughts as they arise non-judgmentally, and then — and this is the key of the whole thing — you let them go. You let each thought that arises fall away into nothingness. You just keep breathing, keep returning your awareness to the present moment.

Mindfulness is ultimately about tending your observation of conscious stimuli and its myriad contents in a less severe, less restless, more controlled, more responsible — more mindful — manner. And meditation is the foundation upon which to cultivate mindfulness, for those minutes at a time, and then beyond, in the day-to-day passages of one’s life. Washing the dish necessarily becomes second nature to the master meditator.

Soon after reading this book, and reading a bit about the basics of meditation on the internet {https://www.mindful.org/}, I began to try to meditate.

Of course, try meditating {or just sitting with your thoughts and nothing else} for just a few minutes and you can see how much of a struggle it becomes to wrest control of the monkey mind. To borrow an idiom from Marcus Aurelius, regarding the practice of meditation, the obstacle is the way. It is absolutely supposed to be a struggle. Especially for the modern person, so full of media readily at our disposal to distract us and lists of coming tasks and responsibilities and the dreadful, culturally main staying idea of wasting time. Meditation is hard for us. And it’s work, even if referring to it as such seems like paradoxical thinking.

My mind is a minefield {Yours probably is too!}. Thoughts on thoughts on thoughts, on goals, on fears, on unexpressed emotions, on repressed memories, on randomly trivial trivias such as the W.A.R. of Astros third baseman Alex Bregman during the 2018 regular season (6.9).

From the second I shut my eyes and turn away from my smartphone, all of it begins to swirl within me and roil in a compounding escalation. Thoughts, memories, and anticipations rise up within me ad infinitum, each one more tantalizing than the last, daring to drag me away to get lost within their many folds. My meditation is instantly shot. I am distracted, I am lost in thought, and it’s over. I am bad at meditating. It’s past time to get up and try another time.

Except, no. Return to the breath. That’s it. Just keep returning to the breath. 1) Get lost in thought … 2), 3), 4), … n) Return to the breath, n+1) Get lost in thought again … n+3) Return to the breath, n+4) Get lost in thought again, again, etc. etc. etc. This return to the breath is the trump card of mindfulness. Some call it a ‘bicep for the mind.’ And it’s the whole game. Your mind will never be clear. You may never let a single thought pass without it sticking around for a spell. Time will dilate for you within your session. 10 silent minutes will feel like 100 minutes. Anxiety will rise for a multitude of unfounded and founded reasons. The very next return will feel like climbing a mountain without oxygen. The latest bout of lost-in-thoughtdom will steal up half your minutes, and will anger or dishearten you as a result, further unminding you, further angering and disheartening… Thoughts you’ve never had before and will never have again will emerge and fall away, and you may not let them. More than anything else, some small piece of you {smaller over time and with more practice, hopefully} will always yearn to open your eyes and walk away to do something more interesting, or merely check your nearest screen. Our monkey mind is especially attuned to our environment, and all the toys it can play with at the drop of a hat. The modern world beckons and forces us out of our mindful reveries at every single moment. There’s no going back from this. That makes it all 10x harder. And in my honest opinion, more necessary. It should go without saying, but hard things have irreplaceable value – and are usually worth doing.

The endgame is this: No matter what, whether in a seat of meditation or in the jungle of the world, a person familiar with mindfulness will always have a card to play. A card to counteract mental restlessness and the default state of our minds to bend and churn in rumination, outside of our control. And that is the practice, making that card consciously drawable. Especially beyond your bouts of sitting cross-legged in chairs or cushions, alone and with nothing pressing you inside of the next 10 minutes. I believe the card’s true value will be unlocked beyond the structure of one’s meditative sessions, during the chaotic work of your day. Mindfulness in the day-to-day may never be truly second nature to us yet. We have evolved our default state, our auto-pilot and its excellently reactive unconsciousness for good reasons. It just doesn’t always serve us. This is the value in the practice. The fact that we can cultivate some small measure of mindfulness is yet another screed upon the scroll of the infinitely adaptable nature of mankind.

In the first episode of his meditation course, Sam Harris draws up an apt metaphor for a person experiencing mindfulness for the first time as a city-folk facing the night sky at a location remote enough from light pollution as to finally see the stars. When staring at the sky before, so much of its beauty was obscured by the busy environment of the city’s machinery and its resultant light. Now, unobfuscated from artificial luminescence, one might see past it all, witnessing the constellations of the stars sincerely. This, Harris posits and I concur, is a similar sort of experience for the person taking a moment to mindfully observe the contents of their own consciousness for the first time in their life, at last freed from the unconscious distractions and impatient fluttering between states of thinking, without noticing.

In both cases — as stargazer or as sentient being in the world — one can be seeing or thinking, and believe they have taken in everything they think they need to, all the while not fully understanding what they are missing until faced with it. The face up changes everything, and there is no going back. A new mindset emerges, with a different first principle {“these are the stars! / this is presence!”}, and is carried henceforth. This is the power of mindfulness, and this is why I wholeheartedly engaged myself upon it.

Part 2: Mindfulness as science

So, the mindfulness practice is a struggle.

The question then becomes, is it a useful struggle? Is it a worthy one, a good one? Is mindfulness something that you should be taking the time to undertake?

I think “Mindfulness” and “mindfulness meditation” are things most people have heard about at this point in 2019. There has been a mindfulness revolution going on. Rising in awareness and popularity over the years since I first read The Miracle of Mindfulness, the emergence of mindfulness into the cultural lexicon has been beyond interesting to bear witness to, even exciting. There was solidarity in seeing the wider world-embracing this practice which I personally discovered and found value in {and that Eastern traditions had practiced and found value in for centuries…}. It certainly made it easier to talk to peers about without sounding like a new age hippie {no offense to hippies!}. There are now a multitude of apps and programs alongside a flurry of different sales pitches to get one into mindfulness, backed by anecdotes and studies on the value in mindfulness.

~ Some apps: Calm / Headspace / Waking Up / Insight Timer / 10% Happier

~ Some science: What are the benefits of mindfulness {American Psychological Association} / When science meets mindfulness {The Harvard Gazette} / Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies / MindfulSchools.org / Centre for Mindfulness Studies /

American professor, and perhaps the original proselytizer of mindfulness to the West, Jon Zabat-Kinn is heralded as decoupling the practice from the dogmas of Buddhism. Selling it as secular allowed it to be installed to the Western audience much easier, as it will not conflict with any beliefs one already holds about the cosmos or its alleged creators. Its flexible execution, and the increasing number of studies commissioned to prove out its beneficent effectiveness in a number of arenas {from stress reduction to cognitive improvement and treatments for addiction and depression — see links above}, has positioned mindfulness as a kind of miracle panacea. It has been heralded from everything as a ‘cure’ to some of these conditions, to simply a better way to deal with any of the problems one might encounter in life. Others such as Matthieu Ricard, Sam Harris, Dan Harris and obviously Hanh himself have spoken at length about the practicality and miraculousness of mindfulness {in addition to a ton of TED speakers}.

Mindfulness arrived at a time just when our society seemed to need it to, imbuing itself upon a population desperately in need of ameliorating solutions, one increasingly prone to the cult of productivity hacks, endless careerist busyness, and mental restlessness and rising depression levels in the heart of generations born with all the beautifully atrocious media, information and histories of the species at our fingertips from the youngest of ages. “Self-care” has become a popular buzz-phrase, sold in myriad methodologies and techniques and simple little reminders to breathe and drink water and wash your face. It’s a quaint ideal, perhaps useful to some, even many. But its purpose is real and needed: to salve the small pains of a generation overly stressed about their present and anxious about their future. Just as there was no age limit or cultural boundaries upon these systemic issues coming up within the consciousness of America, mindfulness similarly had no such boundaries or barriers to entry. Anyone could practice mindfulness, anywhere and at any time, immediately if they so chose — and they could do it on their own, their smartphone as guide. For better or worse, it’s not so difficult to chart out the path as to why mindfulness has taken hold within our culture.

A couple years ago, after having gone in and out of the consistent practice of meditating in my transition from college life to work life, I read Dan Harris’ short book on his journey with the practice — 10% Happier. Partly because I had bought it as a gift for my parents, to sell them on the practice to help them out in some small way {say about 10%}. And partly because I was trying to spur myself to be more consistent with the work. Harris’ speaks of his discovery of mindfulness out of necessity, taken on in the midst of career and personal struggles. His work with the craft then spawned from a practical standpoint, after an exhaustive elimination of other spiritual practices he couldn’t summon himself to bear the burdens of. Like myself, and many other modern Americans, Mr. Harris is a skeptic and wouldn’t, or couldn’t, take on any undue beliefs alongside mind states or practices that might help the stressed-out, anxiety-ridden and occasionally depressive monkey mind. Mindfulness was the conclusion, come upon only after a painstaking search and with the necessary scientific proof in hand. Reading the book reinforced the already pretty solid ideal in my head that mindfulness was a whole and pure good. My intermittent practice has no doubt continued in the few years hence.

Up to now, I meditate on average a few times a week. I once meditated nearly every day for a month. It didn’t last long beyond then. Time fell away from my days and I failed to get to it for longer and longer stretches. Every day one doesn’t meditate, it becomes easier to not do it the next. Sometimes I would do it twice in one day, many other times, zero. Just as with writing, there is no easy routine to slot yourself into with it; some mix of motivation or resolute discipline must arise for it to be done. It has remained a struggle in spite of my experience with it and all the ‘proof’ I now have of its value. As a practical exercise, it has succeeded to relieve my mind from time to time and remind me to pay attention to even the little things in my life. As a spiritual exercise, it’s been a clarifying methodology to reinforce presence, and a memento to reflect upon the infinity inside me, for possibilities and despairs in equal measure and the power within the unknowns inside my own consciousness and this strange universe I inhabit. Understanding is still coming to me now. My progress as a meditator has been anything but linear. Some days are better than others, some months I forget to meditate with any consistency at all.

Meditation is still certainly a struggle for me.

And now, I have come to find there are perhaps good reasons beyond mere laziness for the lapses in my practice. They have come to a head, and are the reason for this particular writing.

Not to be confusing, but the reason I am writing all this, about my thoughts and experiences on being mindful, is not to sell you on mindfulness. It is an account and an exploration of the full gamut of my reflections upon the exercise. If by way of my writing this critical accounting, one becomes intrigued and willing to try it out, then so be it. Same to these words driving one away from it all in haste. But that is not my purpose with this. My purpose, coming to present now, is to make an evaluation of why I am struggling with mindfulness and the art of meditating now. The more I try it and learn about it, seeing the perspectives of allies and opponents of it {or what it has become} alike, the more critically discerning of it I have become. And so I am writing this to try to express my own journey into the practice, its value to me and my own mind, and to elucidate upon the cross-roads I have just now come upon. This is good, I think. Maybe it’s just who I am, but I have to do this kind of further examining and investigating and vetting before I can take anything into my personage and make it a true habit. I absolutely must ‘have it out’ with anything I am exploring, with the endgame of it potentially becoming a foundational belief, habit, or idea worthy of entering my lexicon of communications to others.

I say present, because thus far I have been speaking of the past, my experiences with mindfulness from their origin point and my nascent exploration through its cause to take hold within modern culture, and the scientific backing of its boons. All of this was necessary to initiate me into the aura of mindfulness as an experience worthy of possible exploration to its ends.

Now, I wish to speak on some of the questions and worthy criticisms of mindfulness, as art and movement, as well as some ideas of my own concerning its ends, for me.

~

Part 3: Mindfulness as art

Mindfulness can be seen as a solution. It stands to reason that it is only introduced and taken on as a practice in the face of problems. By way of its role to help quell the mind of its many ills, it must be seen as a solution, or at least part of the eventual solving of that which ails us.

Well, what ails us? Why are we restless? Because our mind and its consciousness borne of unknown origins has evolved to be so. Maybe. But why are we depressed? why are we unhappy? why do we so often experience serious discontent from thoughts, and thoughts alone?

Why?

These questions turn us away from mindfulness, and toward the source of its necessity: our suffering.

Individually, for each and every one of us, there is an answer to this damnable question of ‘why.’ Like any difficult mystery afforded it’s difficult truth, answers may not come easily, if at all. The truth must be earned; likely only discovered via more suffering taken on in the act of doing so.

My point is: We suffer directly due to underlying reasons that exist. It may all remain ever-hidden within the recesses of a past of complex and emergent events and experiences we cannot fully reconcile or pull together for honest consideration. It may be as nuanced and many-faced as a diamond, bloodied and obfuscated by a lifetime of repressions and improbably causal factors one may never get to the bottom of. The avenue to the truth may never be alighted for us; it may be seen but deemed as unfathomable to definition. This is tragic in its own right. But my point in saying all this — there is a source, there is a truth to our suffering.

There is no may to this; it’s just a simple, objectively stone-cold fact. We are conscious creatures created by our experiences and our blood, and there are real roots to all that which ails us. Whether we can come to help ourselves and sever any number of many-headed hydra comprising our issues is another question. One we are given a clarion call to try an answer, by way of us living and breathing and moving about in the world. Insofar that we passionately search, may we be blessed enough to find a sliver of the sacred truth of our suffering, and then — take action to try to salve that pain at its source. Call this the task paramount to navigating the human condition. Self-evidently, the art of living is to be an endless search for betterment, and for change. We wish to become less restless, less depressed, less full of suffering — we wish to change from worse to better. We want to be happy, and currently, we are not. Whether we can ultimately solve these problems of self with or without the underlying knowledge of the roots of our sufferings and our traumas and our restless, longing aches of the heart, is largely uncertain. {Therapists have waged this war, between psychoanalytical and behavioral styles, for a century.}

Regardless, this is the problem. And so, how does mindfulness perform in regard to this problem?

A worldly one, a ‘mindful’ one, may stop me now and proclaim that my framing of the whole dilemma is wrong. To bring mindfulness into the fold of this kind of discussion and this search, is missing the point. Presenting the practice of mindfulness as a solution, and as an actionable methodology to battle against suffering is a foolish way of thinking about it. Mindfulness is a drive towards Oneness and away from desire, averted from change and from the striving for it. To use being mindful as a charge towards the desired end of happiness is paradoxical due to its express purpose being just the opposite: of freeing us from all desire in the first place.

The Self, the ego and all its instinctual and ultimately destructive desires, this is the target of mindfulness and of meditation. We are to elevate beyond our Self.

And so, as either poetic byproduct or destined outcome of the meditative exercise, some would say that one will, over time, come to find that the Self is an illusion. Mindfulness slices through the ego, through this inner self — ‘the judging watcher behind the walls of consciousness’ — and exposes it to the meditator as the illusory nothingness that it truly is. It’s not even there. You have probably heard the esoteric phrase: There is no self. It’s an ancient idea and it comes from the Eastern traditions. In short, it means that as human beings we are all part of the whole {of the community, of the Universe}, and any sense of separation we feel from this Oneness with the rest of existence, is simply human distraction, confusion, and an aversion to true enlightenment. Given Western civ’s long religious history speaking of souls, hypothesizing of mind-body dualism, and a collective championing of the individualized self, one raised within this culture might tend to believe there is some little you in control of your mind, body, and consciousness, dictating your days in a constant and perpetual state. An “unchanging rider on the horse of consciousness,” the Self is the seat upon which one commands as the thinker of thoughts. This Self is unique to us, and this fact is so very important to us. Eastern traditions on the other hand, present this sense of self, this self-centering ideation of a watcher of consciousness, as the source of unconscious discontent. The source of all suffering. The willful need to separate ourselves from nature and from the rest of Man is what drives egoic decision-making and the desires which will inevitably destroy a person.

And yet, we believe this self is true and real because it provides a comfort to us. Just like God and the belief in the immortality of our soul. It provides identity to our struggle, hope for our pain. And psychology shows that wishful thinking is just as good as the real thing, for the sake of our mental health. The Self and God each serve as existential foundation-makers.

And yet the mindful practice speaks that this Self, and the desire it invokes, is the bugaboo which creates our suffering. Specifically, the desire for change, for betterment, for things to be different for us. The yearning for change is what will make us perpetually unhappy. The imagining of different outcomes for ourselves, of a better way, and the ceaseless striving to create that world — is what makes us restless, worried, suffering, depressed. As long as we are away from that imagined fate, we are unwell. A hard truth, but the truth nonetheless. Mindfulness comes in accepting that which is not, and perhaps, cannot be. Mindfulness does not seek change, or to be away from the currency of the present. It elevates us above such concerns; the mindful one knows the only time is now. Just as in stoicism, it is a mindset which better prepares us for the fated slings and arrows of our coming reality, building for us the resolve to be bloody but unbowed in the clutches of fell circumstance. We have everything we need to be happy, to be our final, perfect selves, right here in front of us. There is only now, and to be mindful is simply to realize this and finally bear the weight of this truth.

~

So wait? Mindfulness is to do nothing for my suffering? It just forces me to reframe my problems, my whole mind, to see a different source for it? Desiring change, wanting to make myself or my world better, that’s the enemy? I’m just supposed to grin and bear it all? Is this the first and final teaching of mindfulness? Rubbish! 

I don’t necessarily think so, but the argument can be made ~

The mindfulness conspiracy ~ It is sold as a force that can help us cope with the ravages of capitalism, but with its inward focus, mindful meditation may be the enemy of activism: {https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/jun/14/the-mindfulness-conspiracy-capitalist-spirituality}

This long read from The Guardian articulated the well-founded problems many people have come to discover about the practice of mindfulness {myself included}. Adapted from the book McMindfulness: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality by Ronald Purser, it’s well worth a read as a both a primer and critical assessment of the mindfulness movement. In it, the macro effects of the practice and its implications for its widespread practitioners living within modern society are well detailed.

The primary issue Purser and other critics of mindfulness — {important caveat: mostly as it has been sold to the Western masses} — is that it creates a false dilemma for the individual, placing them as the sole culprit and sole arbiter of the problems of their condition, and of their “emotional fates.” Paradoxical to the Eastern teachings that originated mindfulness meditation, the mass mindfulness movement — dubbed as ‘McMindfulness’ by the author — have co-opted the practice as a way to place the responsibility, or even the blame, of anyone’s problems on their own restless mind. The environment in which they live {the people and systems surrounding them} is conveniently, simplifyingly, left out of the psychoanalytical picture for a person. Obviously, one is easier to change than the other {and still difficult at that!}. Westernized mindfulness, stripped from its Eastern dogma of Oneness and bringing the Self closer to the All, becomes a way to mask true systemic problems {the endless rat race of neoliberal capitalism, as Purser argues, being the real source of our less-than-stellar personal conditions} under a guise of individualized agency.

You can change your own life — and the focus should be on you — and mindfulness is the way. “We just have to sit in silence, watching our breath, and wait.” The mindful concept being sold can become reminiscent of the Gandhi quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Everyone knows that all change begins with the self. Mindfulness posits that it may end there as well. And thus, as with everything else that suddenly becomes profitable, the modern economic forces of the day have seized this ancient spiritual practice that just so happens to be the zeitgeist and have begun to relentlessly monetize it. The apps, courses and books are all part of the vast conspiracy to sell the modern American on this. The myriad methodologies of mindfulness available to us all come together as a simple and secular spiritual discipline you can grab off the shelf on the way to work.

All the while, Purser posits, the mass-adopted practice of mindfulness by the Western middle class, such as in the U.S. and U.K., spurs on the status quo of complacence, quelling the mind and any activism in the face of increasingly dire economic inequalities, political injustices, and the root problems really creating the component pieces of our society’s emotional suffering. Selling mindfulness, under these conditions and from this perspective, is to avert one’s gaze from the real problems. And they are problems which may be solvable given action borne of suffering given its course, and a full-hearted desire to change one’s current conditions from that struggling station. Mindfulness: An easy out, a disavowal of the social responsibilities of your time, a stoic desensitization of political and economic outcomes which absolutely should bring about extreme emotional responses. The exercise helps one cope with external conditions and inequities that the exercise posits as not the roots of your distress, but instead presents roots of an internal kind.

“Mindfulness advocates, perhaps unwittingly, are providing support for the status quo. Rather than discussing how attention is monetised and manipulated by corporations such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Apple, they locate the crisis in our minds. It is not the nature of the capitalist system that is inherently problematic; rather, it is the failure of individuals to be mindful and resilient in a precarious and uncertain economy. Then they sell us solutions that make us contented, mindful capitalists.

“Mindfulness, like positive psychology and the broader happiness industry, has depoliticised stress. If we are unhappy about being unemployed, losing our health insurance, and seeing our children incur massive debt through college loans, it is our responsibility to learn to be more mindful.

“Mindfulness is easily co-opted and reduced to merely “pacifying feelings of anxiety and disquiet at the individual level, rather than seeking to challenge the social, political and economic inequalities that cause such distress”, write Carrette and King. But a commitment to this kind of privatised and psychologised mindfulness is political — therapeutically optimising individuals to make them “mentally fit”, attentive and resilient, so they may keep functioning within the system. Such capitulation seems like the farthest thing from a revolution — more like a quietist surrender.

“A truly revolutionary mindfulness would challenge the western sense of entitlement to happiness irrespective of ethical conduct.”

In short: Regardless of circumstance, your own mind is the problem, and becoming mindful of this truth is the first step to solving it.

If this feels wrong to you, you are not alone.

The writer is clearly concerned with mindfulness in the context of the wider social realm, how it presents individuals with culpability in issues truly outside their control and the implications for this “tool of self-discipline, disguised as self-help” amidst predatory capitalistic forces on a systemic level. Purser’s primary criticism comes from how the practice is being presented, packaged, and sold. Mindfulness has become a commodity “anchored in the ethos of the market” used to wage apolitical, amoral judgments about one’s conditions therein, spurning serious criticism or change of those conditions. While I don’t necessarily agree with everything said within this article, I do appreciate every point presented as needing to be raised and discussed. Such widespread practices as mindfulness has now become, no matter how benign or beneficent they seem, should never be beyond criticism, and any proponent of it making false or merely lofty claims on its behalf should be prepared to be held to account.

“Neoliberalism divides the world into winners and losers. It accomplishes this task through its ideological linchpin: the individualisation of all social phenomena. Since the autonomous (and free) individual is the primary focal point for society, social change is achieved not through political protest, organising and collective action, but via the free market and atomised actions of individuals. Any effort to change this through collective structures is generally troublesome to the neoliberal order. It is therefore discouraged.”

So with this criticism, on a societal level, mindfulness holds the potential to become a resource used to carry the status quo, threatening to make one ineffectual against the ravages of their socioeconomic environment they mindfully choose to disregard as an accomplice to the sowing of their maladies. At scale, mindfulness does the ‘neoliberal’ work of insulating the problems of the world into the individual heart, mind and soul. In the most personally affecting and spiritualized of ways, it does so by way of making the populace observe their consciousness with existential sincerity, alone and disorganized from the collective, instead of revolting with words, actions and votes {at the very least, with searching eyes} against the root systems and personnel producing and perpetuating their problems.

This criticism is compelling, and quite worthy of a response.

~

Another criticism I have come across is from a more personal frame {and one I can more readily attest to} in consideration of mindfulness’s capacity, or lack thereof, for providing actionable guidance on one’s emotions and problems. ~

The problem of mindfulness ~ Mindfulness promotes itself as value-neutral but it is loaded with (troubling) assumptions about the self and the cosmos: {https://aeon.co/essays/mindfulness-is-loaded-with-troubling-metaphysical-assumptions}

This essay, by Sahanika Ratnayake, graduate student at the University of Cambridge, espouses her own personal testimony with mindfulness and how it has given her pause in consideration of her own emotions and that of the practice itself in seemingly distancing them from her.

Something about the mindfulness practice I’d cultivated, and the way it encouraged me to engage with my emotions, made me feel increasingly estranged from myself and my life.

Practitioners are discouraged from engaging with their experiences in a critical or evaluative manner, and often they’re explicitly instructed to disregard the content of their own thoughts.

Critics say that the nonjudgmental aspects of mindfulness are in fact at odds with Buddhist meditation, in which individuals are instructed to actively evaluate and engage with their experiences in light of Buddhist doctrine.

“In claiming to offer a multipurpose, multi-user remedy for all occasions, mindfulness oversimplifies the difficult business of understanding oneself. It fits oh-so-neatly into a culture of techno-fixes, easy answers and self-hacks, where we can all just tinker with the contents of our heads to solve problems, instead of probing why we’re so dissatisfied with our lives in the first place. As I found with my own experience, though, it’s not enough to simply watch one’s thoughts and feelings. To understand why mindfulness is uniquely unsuited for the project of real self-understanding, we need to probe the suppressed assumptions about the self that are embedded in its foundations.”

“Of course, it’s often pragmatically useful to step away from your own fraught ruminations and emotions. Seeing them as drifting leaves can help us gain a certain distance from the heat of our feelings, so as to discern patterns and identify triggers. But after a certain point, mindfulness doesn’t allow you to take responsibility for and analyse such feelings.

Related: Forgetting ourselves: epistemic costs and ethical concerns in mindfulness exercises. ~ by Sahanika Ratnayake, David Merry

Sahanika’s words touched me because they are so similar to my own concerns on the matter of mindfulness crystallized into articulation.

~

All of this finally brings me to my present evaluation of mindfulness, my practice and my course going forward.

From what I can surmise from personal experience thus far, there are three primary quandaries within the realm of mindfulness worthy of my elaboration.

  1. The introduction of evaluation and judgment
  2. The threat of ineffectiveness
  3. The danger of demons

I will try to expand upon each of them here, and resolve to respond to them in some manner. All three of these notions move beyond the terms and tenets of the mindfulness practice, as it has been taught in this new era and in the older, more ancient ways from the Eastern doctrines. Paradoxically, to try and implement these considerations into the practice might dispel the exercise’s whole telos, as has been heavily analyzed up to this point in this writing. Or, my pursuit to investigate mindfulness to this end may endeavor to craft some new art from the ashes of the old one no longer serving me. Either way, away we go…

First, there comes a consideration of using mindfulness to make a deeper exploration of your self and your emotional state, and for the generation of ideas worthy of pursuit.

From my own experience, this seems to me a natural outgrowth from the exercise. It involves sitting with your self and unconsciously contemplating all that is within you, while simultaneously trying to dispel all that mental noise and return to the locus of your breath. However, using mindfulness to relax, or to generate new ideas, to release yourself from time, and to potentially better understand yourself by making evaluations on the contemplative thoughts you come to entertain in your seat … is all quite counter to the practice as it is taught and written about. ‘Using’ mindfulness at all, to any end beyond itself and the sense of present moment awareness you are cultivating, is tantamount to simply letting in a new kind of distraction. Doing these sorts of things requires judgments, and judgments are simply more thoughts.

And yet, I feel as though there might there be some value in this addendum to the practice. By its nature, it’s a clarifying force for such evaluations. Sitting and staying yourself of all animation, not for sleeping, is to set yourself onto a path to entertain the full gamut of your unconsciousness. In this way, mindfulness cleans up your consciousness, doing the work of getting one unstuck from their ruminative regress, even as it comes with difficulty. Something happens to us, we have a bad day, and the thought of the event and the feelings it has produced in us remain long after the bell has rung. Meditation can break that cycle.

But what of the cycles to come? You did this. You should’ve done this. You could’ve done this. You could be doing this. You should be doing this. I wonder what this person thinks of me? Why do I care what this person thinks of me? What do I think of them? Why do I think that way? What’s next? Who’s next?

Noise. But not always so irrational noise, not so random. What is our mind trying to tell us? Perhaps, in this silence, we should be trying to listen.

It is certainly possible that meditation can serve as both detective and preventative maintenance upon our mind’s woes. In stilling ourselves and letting our thoughts scramble, we come to see things we might overlook during the fury of the day. And in sighting them unselfconsciously, in the mindful state, what new insights might be gained?

Meditation helps one to clear all the built up cluttered dross of the day, the week, your whole life. It really makes you stop. And stopping is so novel to us today that it can easily engender new ideas. Ideas to be engaged, analyzed, rooted out. Considered, judgmentally. From the clarion view of present moment awareness, novel judgments due their novel outcomes may be just what the doctor ordered.

I can’t count the number of times meditating has presented me with new ways of thinking about problems, people, conversations, ideas, paths open and potentially open to me. Becoming mindful, even in small ways, serves to expand your consciousness. And what more is a new idea than an expansion of conscious possibility? In my meditative exercise, I let those kinds of thoughts fall away with the breath, like all the random spasms of trivia. But I do not forget them. Sometimes I come to further grasp them later once those minutes are up. This doesn’t happen during every session. In the cycle of the return to the breath, I am certainly not trying to make anything happen. To do so might prevent the insights. My point here is that sometimes it is okay, beyond acceptable and perhaps even good, to let the unconscious thoughts and feelings AND your conscious evaluations and judgments of them which arise during meditation affect you in meaningful ways, during and after your time in repose. Whether they are good or bad, logical or mad, they are part of you, creations by you. They are drifting clouds while you are a firmly founded mountain, sure. But they are able to be sighted, and whether a beauty to see or a terror, they are there for a reason. They are part of your truth as a person. The difficulty comes in how much ground within your mind space you give them. They already have at least some of it.

In all this, think of mindfulness meditation as a dream you can consciously bring about in the middle of the day. It already shares many component similarities with dreaming. As with each — we are experiencing ourselves and our unconsciousness like we do in no other way. There is always meaning in dreams, even if it’s only via interpretation.

There is balance in this, however. The intent with this idea of mine is not to change the intent of mindfulness meditation. Dispassionately observing the contents of your mind, getting lost in streams of thought, and consciously returning to the breath — it’s all still there. The ideas are a compulsory outgrowth of simply letting the unconscious mind contemplate on its own. Compulsory because these thoughts are out of our control. Judgments will also come unconsciously, and then further judgments in the choice of which you force away sooner vs. those you may let linger. Balance is important in the dictates here. It is plausible, more likely probable, that many more bad ideas will come as opposed to good ones.

For example, these two thoughts arise {among many, many others} during a meditation session: a) I should just tell the truth to them and let the chips fall where they may. I am better off doing that than furthering this pointless cat-and-mouse game where we show and don’t tell and no one knows what’s going on; b) I’m worthless, and I always will be.

After the sesh, keep a hold of a) and let b) fall away. {Easier said than done, I know!} One or the other or both may come around again in another session or later on in your day. But only one is useful. Usefulness is another judgment however, and the possible content and persuasive power of our minds is practically infinite. So new struggles and paradoxes arise. Alas, this is part of the game of this particular addendum.

Of course, as I said at the start, this notion of letting ideation ride and welcoming the wisdom of your snap judgments during the mindfulness practice is already a dangerous one. It holds the capacity to destroy the practice and morph it into something else entirely {like one of the many other different, perhaps more complex types of meditation out there}. Depending on your own personal madness, the definition of your thoughts and judgments arising during your times in sincere mindfulness, this may not be something that is wanted or possible for you.

Ultimately, you will just have to … use your best judgment.

~

Second, comes the threat of ineffectiveness. This is a common charge against mindfulness and other stoic, ‘monk-like’ spiritual disciplines of all stripes. “If you are blissed out and high on unrealistic hippie-dippie bullshit inside your bubble, then you … won’t, like, do shit.” It’s a compelling argument, and is one of the primary concerns of Purser’s westernized mindfulness conspiracy.

At its heart, mindfulness seems to draw one towards centrism, both spiritually and politically. After all, one of the end goals, or byproducts, of mindfulness meditation is to make one more centered, less prone to extremis in thoughts, emotions and actions. In any direction, mindfulness tempers one to the swings of our passions. Towards love or hate, fury or joy, the one living in the present is not taken away on a chain reaction of bliss or agony. In assuming the goal of cultivating more stable, less restless states of mind, one becomes more capable of handling the roiling ups and downs that life inevitably throws our way. This is the intention of the game, and the origin of my own mantra.

You are a mountain; thoughts are clouds.

A person who persists in this style of thinking ultimately becomes less likely to react, or at least — react emotionally. This is good. Until it isn’t. Some things, some moments, absolutely demand a reaction. Perhaps even a visceral, passionate one. A bully calls for a response. Injustice demands a response commensurate with its severity. Hatred and prejudice and violence yearn for responses, critiques, comprehensions, reckonings.

Mindfulness is no religious doctrine; it does not present us with another world beyond this one we may look forward to given right thought and action. There is no virtue is willfully pacifying oneself unto brutalizations at the hands of the cruelty and madness of the world. There is no reward for prostrating oneself to fate and letting the waves of entropy wash you away into a yearned paradise.

Mindfulness is no divine, existential solution; it is just presence.

No doubt, there are problems before us, in the here and now. There are problems far beyond our self and our mind and our recursive currents of thoughts being produced in there. Many of our problems may be caused by our environments — either by injustices within our purview or by externalities entirely outside of our control, likely somewhere in between. Mindfulness then, may serve as a salve to bear the weight of these inequities with grace, dulling the suffering by wielding a state of mind that averts itself from these problems and lets the negative thoughts borne upon their shores drift away.

But what good can mindfulness be if there is something to be done about these problems in the here and now, within our grasp and awaiting our traversal across their lines?

I believe mindfulness must not dull one’s response so much so that it becomes inactivity, lessening the likelihood to initiate a move to rectify issues internal or external of yourself. Mindfulness must not nullify ethical thinking or acting. Whether from the standpoint of futility or out of a fear of the consequences of stirring the proverbial pot, inaction in the face of ethical transgressions is unethical. Context and circumstance obviously matter, and there is a landscape of moral outcomes before us in any given interaction. But moral outcomes must always be considered, and with a mindful response in hand. A mindful state of mind certainly isn’t the only one that might steal one’s motive to move {denial, desensitization, depression, etc.} But it is uniquely a positive one, that we work hard to employ with a mind for it to help us in our lives — and the lives of those around us. The intent behind most of the things we consciously choose to do is to give us pleasure, or in a higher sense — to make us happy. The sphere of our influence, and our capacity to bring happiness, does not end with just us.

Don’t get me wrong — responding to everything is exhausting. Trying to please everyone or meet the needs of only a few persons outside of ourselves is even more so. Letting the full implications of a single word, a single person, or a single situation fall upon your shoulders is burdensome. The truth is that once something enters our consciousness, it has to be dealt with in some way. Averting our gaze may be easier but I would argue in the end — more painful, given our natural penchant for empathy. And trying to solve a problem can animate us like nothing else. But knowing whether something is solvable, inside or outside your control, where you limits begin and end, is rarely easy. And of course, trying to make a difference and seeing that you have failed to do so is one of the worst feelings. A fear of failure is paradoxically healthy and destructive, simultaneously a source of evolutionary progress unto risk and regressive to reward.

Drastic alterations to your normal spheres notwithstanding, bearing witness to the world in default mode is generally not happiness inducing. And so, it stands to reason that mindfulness, insofar that it can nullify or diminish these kinds of reactive suffering within us, is precisely what we require to continually live in this world with grace.

That being said, where is the line between personal peace and a disavowal of communal responsibility? Asceticism can always be viewed as irresponsibility. I would argue one’s potential can never be fully realized alone. Even on a noble path into oneself, towards ‘enlightenment,’ consistently aware of what one thinks are the edges of their sphere of influence, there are concessions towards the larger struggle of the times. In stepping away from the community and its struggles, what are we eventually culpable for, given our potential presence charts a different course for the collective? Impossible to say, either way. And yet one path implies the endeavoring. What did Peter Parker say? “When you can do the things I can, and then bad things happen around you, they happen because of you.” A harsh assessment, and inaccurate in one sense. But it’s an admirable notion, and a noble worldview to take on the responsibility of. You don’t need to be Spider-Man to feel the need to respond to the world around you in an ethically impactful way. Even if it means making uncertain judgments, taking risks, and becoming impassioned at the happenings of the world outside of your own mind, we are called to do so.

All of this is to say — silencing your ego is good, tempering rampant desire is a good thing to try to do, quelling the relentless restlessness within and becoming One with the universe, utterly free from the reach of change is … good? On the whole, this sounds good. And yet, given your surroundings are both full of injustice and capable of being rectified in some manner by you individually or collectively — one can see the cracks. There is the never-ending struggle between the desire for change and the destructive ends that desire, if so unfulfilled, will wreak upon our hearts and minds over time. There will always be a paradox between one’s singularity, their individual agency and their yearning to change things for the better beyond themselves. Our sphere of influence is mutable and ever-changing, depending on what we are willing to do to expand it.

Given activism {social, political, ecological, economical} is a viable path for one to take {and I believe it is}, mindfulness can be seen to work against it, if taken to an extreme. As with anything else, a balanced perspective is required. One must be aware of their suffering in the context of their own personal failings and the failings of the environment around them, the institutions perpetuating it and the possible avenues to reform all of the above. Changing the self might always be the first step, but it’s not the end of our journey {or it certainly shouldn’t be}.

If one has a mind to do it, the clarifying centrism that mindfulness might lead us into must not defeat action. It must not dissuade one from the prospects of radical movement in life. May not mindfulness so perfectly counteract mindlessness? May the conscious acknowledging of the absurdity of our position in this time and place serve us instead of the simple acceptance and surrender so many others come to take on in the face of the emergent and overwhelming force of systems.

I’ve been trying to think of mindfulness as a tool not unlike reading, that can be employed in tandem with life’s endless till of thought and action. Reading engages one into a flow, where we are both aware of our mind’s turning and also unconscious to the language, the information and the story we are gathering up so naturally as we pour over the pages. While captured by a story, we consciously and unconsciously judge, emote, empathize, feel everything as author or ego intends for us. It’s all true, whether these internal actions are ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ Most would consider this the ultimate value in reading, the ability to connect and learn from the hearts and minds of other people. For better or worse, whether lessening or increasing our suffering, we are taken away.

I posit that mindfulness can do the same for all conscious experience. As we roil through life’s passages, over sidewalks and into forests, out of our rooms and amidst society — can we remain awake to it all? Even and especially to the suffering of everything outside of us. Can we be mindful and yet judge? Can we be stoic to the suffering of that which is outside of our locus of control, yet rush to compassionate cooperation to all that which is within it? This is morality. This is the initiative for compassion. They are at least as important as mindfulness. We must remain mindful of all of these competing values because we are moral beings. Morality means unselfishness. Morality is neither mindfulness or mindlessness; morality is a form of judgment. And I think it is clear that one is the easier judge to take the stand. {What do we say about the harder path?}

Knowing the difference between where one can and should try to make a difference, versus where they couldn’t requires moral judgment. It requires prudence borne of knowledge beyond the self. It certainly calls upon mindfulness. And yet, it’s a challenge to dictate these kinds of complications. Just as with mindfulness, the only way to get better at making these kinds of distinctions is through repetitive, disciplined practice.

The simple truth is that we live in relationship to others. And so, we ought to be mindful of our communal environment; I wholeheartedly believe we should be happy to do so. The practice of mindfulness can quite readily co-exist with the all-important building blocks of our relationships in sympathy, empathy and compassion. Becoming mindful of the suffering of others services to us a special kind of pain, it is true. But experiencing this pain in some small way is just as necessary to living well and helping others as vulnerability is to the cultivation of love between you and your closest companions. Ask anyone who has lived long enough and you will come to find that all that really matters in the end is our relationships with other humans beings and how we influence one another and how we help one another. As blessing or curse, mindfulness holds the power to quell our compassion, to avert our hearts and minds away from the suffering of the world — as we see ourselves capable of helping it — OR to amplify it, expanding the bounds of our hearts and minds to include as much of the world as it can, to be reflected in our thoughts and actions and in all worldly decisions. As is the case in all of the most important things there are in this world, we must choose.

I like to think the endgame of mindfulness, inside meditation and out in the world, to be a habitual way to gain a little more self-awareness for these choices.

In the heat of the moment, when faced with an impassioned move one way or the other, mindfulness can be a great tool. With the choices front-facing, all the facts laid out, one can use mindfulness to step back from it all for a moment to inform this next imperative. At the same time, when you are in a depressive mode, caught in the rut of rumination, mindfulness allows you to step back and appreciate what one does have and motivate some kind of gratitude towards that end {you are alive!}. From there, the formerly dreadful path to action is just a bit eased. 10% is the number Dan Harris provides, and this seems an apt metric to give to the balanced power of mindfulness. It provides a momentary over-the-shoulder look upon us in our mad world — like an angel providencing celestial counsel or as a Stand from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure ~ an amplified and more self-aware simultaneous version of you, pathing you to resolution and to victory. The role of this mindful-self is to provide to us an extra insight in times of action or passivity, looking inward at our emotional fate or outward at the co-suffering of our companions.

Call this new art ‘meta-mindfulness’, or better yet – moral mindfulness.

In judgment of others or ourselves, we can always choose compassion. Some days are harder than others, and this is where the Stand of self-awareness must be summoned. Again and again, let mindfulness and meditation make this summoning as effortless as can be. A tao of ‘moral mindfulness’ is borne via repetitions. Ultimately, we can still drive changes in ourselves and the world from here — and effectively make our difference— just with this pivotal shift in perspective firmly in hand to evaluate how we might navigate that kind of action with present. moment. awareness.

*Breath one … breath two*

I can move with this. I can be effective with this.

Image result for jojo stand

My Stand name would absolutely be “Mountain-The-Cloud-Gazer.”

~

Lastly, comes demons. Oh yes.

For a mind within the silence of solitude, there is always the danger of darkness. Staying your experience from all activity, from the toils escapism and from enlivening companionships, is to invite your demons to fill in those temporarily blank spaces.

My stance is that everyone has demons. Everyone. Whether they are aware of them or not. Demons are borne from our absurd aloneness in the world. No matter how loved and understood you feel you are, no matter to your wealth, status or achievement, you are alone in this world. We are born alone and we die alone. No one will ever fully understand us as much as understand ourselves. No one can ever see us as we see ourselves. And even if you feel like you don’t, no one will ever love us the same way we love ourselves. And from the perspective few find it bearable to take even for moments at a time, our life and all our suffering and all our love really doesn’t matter. In the end end, from the long cosmic perspective of the heat-death of the universe and our influence upon it, we will have never existed at all. ‘Drop in the bucket’ and all the rest. At intervals as individualized as our worldly experiences, our damned consciousness takes all of the above in and takes it all to heart. From time to time, our demons arise from within us, hungry and searching. Slowly but surely, they will consume pieces of us. {if we let them.}

Now I say “absurd” aloneness very particularly to mean the absurdity in the Camusian sense — speaking to that of the absurd paradox of Man’s inevitable and unceasing search for meaning within a universe that appears to us as entirely devoid of it, offering no readily available and objective answers on that front. To the existentialist, this serves as a clarion call assumption of responsibility to create a meaning for ourselves. To the nihilist, given this truth, it means that nothing really matters at all to us, and quite objectively so. To the Man of faith in a God of some kind, this condition is barely a glimpse into the truth of our position, in which we are never truly alone, always companioned and championed by an omnipotently benevolent creator with an infinite concern for each and every one of us and our eternal souls.

But regardless to your philosophical position concerning Man’s ultimacy within the universe — while you are here — whether you make your living through other people, through art, through some aspect of divinity, letting your consideration of your god fall away, even for a single moment, is to leave the cellar door ajar.

And within our cellar, always lurking, always awake but sometimes dormant, lay our demons. Our fears, our insecurities, our prejudices and failures, regrets and repressions. Our anxieties and our depression. Our traumas and our transgressions. Our shadow. Our many-faced demons of smiles and frowns and silent screams. This is what lies within the cellar, unconsciously awaiting our daring exploration to its dark corners.

In meditation, sometimes, in some way, we face them. In this regard, being alone with our thoughts for 10 minutes at a time is a dangerous prospect. Given each person’s individual proximity to their cellar door, mindfulness meditation is something that maybe should not be prescribed. Consistent meditation will mean a continuous potential meeting with your mind, freed of all distraction. A prospect included within this kind of experience is a meeting with your shadow {the parts of you that you wish didn’t exist, or worse … didn’t know existed at all}. The danger of this meeting, in taking on these thoughts brought to the forefront of consciousness and engaging with them even slightly, comes with the truth that the facing of them here — in a capacity of cyclical breathing and non-judgmental awareness, alone in the seat of your solitude — likely will not end in their defeat. It may end with all of your shadows as were already present in your life becoming deepened and more present, your already absurd loneliness within the world exacerbated.

Our demons are real, they are founded in real events, traumas, fears and repressions. And they are not so easily dealt with, by anyone. Sometimes after even a lifetime of work they may yet take us down. Occasionally releasing your mind into the ether of presence may do nothing for the problem, it may do a little, it might worsen things further than you could think possible. It goes without saying, as practitioners will say and the science will show to an interested party — mindfulness is, in fact, no miracle panacea for our deepest, most prominent problems. It must be used in tandem with many other potential solutions, namely actionable companionship. This is the only thing that can save us from our absurd position and our increasing awareness of it as we grow older.

You are a mountain; thoughts are clouds.

In truth, my mantra was borne of desperation. Carried forth from my mind during some restless, sleepless night in college years ago, its origins lie within an anxious assurance to myself that my thoughts couldn’t hurt me. My thoughts were clouds, whereas I was a mountain, indestructible and grounded, beyond their reach. I could see them, and I could feel their presence in the form of the shade they laid upon my range. But this did not hurt me beyond how much I cared for that shade’s transient descent upon me. The stone-cold truth underlying this was that my thoughts could not hurt me beyond how much I let them hurt me. And no matter to that pain, the clouds that were there today would be gone tomorrow; the wind’s gusts over time would blow all of these transient travelers away. All the while, I would remain. Transient still, not immortal, as all things are — even mountains — but certainly less transient than my clouds overhead. This mantra, used in life and in meditation, was an aspiration to bring me a measure of peace when demons beckoned.

And yet, this creed is naive, isn’t it? We are not in a vacuum, a pocket universe holding only the clouds directly overhead and me, the mountain below. There is a whole world around me, an environment filled with other mountains, or people, and other phenomena affecting me and influencing me. All of it I can bear witness to, and all of it comes to shape me and my clouds alike. That wind which blows the clouds away, to reveal the sunlight once more, it also weathers me away, slowly but surely. Day and night take turns drenching me in different kinds of cosmic luminescence, without a care for my concern unto either. The other mountains and the grounds between us, shift and rumble and roil over time, forging bonds and creating cracks, building me up to a higher peak amongst the range, or breaking me down, causing earthquakes and avalanches. {I could definitely take this metaphor further and I kinda want to, but I won’t because this post is already super long}.

The point here is: The truth that our thoughts ‘cannot hurt us’ is a simple and short-sighted maxim to live by. It was a brute force methodology to try and escape the darkness within my mind by some kind of singularly stoic discipline I was not {and perhaps never will be} cut out for.

Regardless of our judgments of them as angel, demon or faceless neutral arbiter, there is something to be said about our thoughts and their power. As I have reiterated now several times, they do not come from nothing. They are produced by our environment and the world and people around us. Our thoughts are appropriate, rational — true — in ways that we may not be able to understand in the moment. Our own mind is driven by conscious and unconscious experience in tandem, and it is doing its best. A person creates their mental states by the experiences and non-experiences they are engaging themselves in. Some mix of choice and circumstance have brought us to where we are in life, and we are affected by the pleasures and pains, the indulgences and the regrets, the treatment or non-treatment of this world and its peoples which we inhabit. Our mind, with its many clouds bearing rain or shade, welcomed or not, is simply doing what it is supposed to do to keep us alive.

A conscious avoidance to evaluate and deal with our myriad of chaotic thoughts ~ ala mindfulness ~ carries the potential to disavow one from taking responsibility for their thoughts and their feelings, ardently analzying them, and ultimately trying to do something about them with actions.

What if that daemonic cloud, the one I am avoiding and wish for the wind to blow away as soon as possible, is there for a good reason? What if my mind is sending it in a sincere and desperate message for me to change my ways, and it is imperative I do so, with unseen yet unconsciously predictable consequences well on the way? I should be regarding it with mindfulness and morally reflective and judgmental self-awareness and part of the reason I avoid casting them is because I know it’s a truth-teller and I know how hard it will be to try to act upon its augury. What if that cloud is my shadow’s first and last line of defense, the harbinger of my eventual integration into its tenebrous folds, where I can finally become a more self-actualized being but only after enduring its thresholds and trials and transformations?

There is a context to everything. There comes a natural complexity and a painstaking nuance to the lives we lead, especially the emotional states we wield on the day-to-day. There is a risk then that mindfulness tries to isolate us into a simple solution. It may be one especially not up to the task of attaining a long-term better state of mind, or a better condition for us to inhabit in our real world. For my long-term mental health, there are certain things missing. I am well aware of this. These are what all my demons are reflections of. My melancholia and my depression is warranted; these nightmares I keep experiencing within my head are omens and standard-bearers for deep truths about me and my inner voids. Certainly, there’s something that should be done about it all. Every nightmare is founded in something real. And reality requires a response in the form of action after action.

What role can mindfulness have within this continuous encounter with my demons and the challenge they proffer upon me? Mindfulness can be an excuse — in one embrace of the mantra — to avert my gaze from the work that needs to be done within me. Those demons are nothing more than clouds and they are nothing to me; I need not engage with them. It can be an obstruction, a deterrent, a delay to the work needing to be done outside of me, amongst my purview community and within my traversable environments. Nothing can be done about the world, or those people; nothing you can say or do can change any of that out there, so just stay in your lane and stoically observe the inevitable fall, free of the desire to change any of this.

OR ~ I can idealize mindfulness as becoming a salient part of that journey towards transformation. In another embrace of my mantra, I can momentarily stand above the mountains and the clouds, seeing it all as it is, empathetically and interpersonally contextualizing my self, the One, with the whole range, the All — and then return to my position with a mind to do something, anything at all, to make a difference.

Mindfulness may yet cultivate the actions necessary to cross over thresholds.

When speaking of mindfulness and meditation and the practice of this kind of spiritual, consciousness-laden art, we have again come to a duality, to yet another paradox. For mindfulness is an art. Just like living. And with it comes the duality of its possible experiences. Everything comes back to this {☯️}. And like everything else important and consequential within our lives, mindfulness must be wielded like an art; as in all metaphysics, it must be viewed with the very self-awareness that it cultivates.

The outcome of all art is simple ~ to reduce suffering, to oneself and unto others ~ to maximize understanding, empathy, love, human flourishing ~ to seek the Truth.

Ultimately, the work of life is a course charted into the unknown, deeper and deeper within the tenebrous folds and layers of our individual consciousness, trying to elevate it and expand it to meet the world and its peoples with some mix of grace, efficacy and love.

If being mindful — no matter to how we choose to engage upon it, whether as traditional stoic One within the current of All, or as a sleight of self-awareness, forever affixed as an empowered Stand providing over-the-shoulder existential and moral tastemaking, or some mix of both — can give us over to this uncharted course of life’s passage with a mind, body and heart to better ourselves ~ and compel us to cross those thresholds ~ then we must try to be mindful.

*Breathe*

OK. Time to meditate.

~

I am a mountain; my thoughts are clouds.

And they are calling upon me to move.