Monday, May 30, 2011

YOU ARE ON THE OTHER SIDE


Here’s an old Buddhist story.

A young man is on his way home. He comes to the banks of a wide, and very deep, river. He finds he is on the ‘wrong’ side of the river. The river is fast flowing, with numerous rapids. There is no bridge or other means available for crossing the river.

The young man sees an elderly Buddhist monk standing on the other side of the river, so he yells over to the monk, ‘Oh, wise one, can you tell me how to get to the other side of this river?’

The monk ponders for a moment, looks up and down the river, and yells back, ‘My son, you are on the other side.’

Like many such stories, there appears to be no one interpretation. Many see this simple story as a reminder that we must first see the other person’s point of view before we can effectively communicate our own.

That’s certainly one, and perhaps the most obvious, interpretation, but I think there are others as well. For some, the story may be saying that truth is relative, and that things are to you as they appear to you, and are to me as they appear to me. It all depends which side of the river you’re on.

Of course, if that be the case, there is no objective truth by virtue of which one of us must be right and the other wrong. I reject such subjectivism. It would result in epistemological anarchy and it's otherwise contrary to the 'logic of things'. Truth is not relative to persons. Truth is what is. Ignorance and mistaken beliefs do nothing to make truth relative. When any proposition is taken to its logical conclusion, a question of fact - truth or falsity - is always reached. One always can get back to the objective distinction between something being the case and not being the case. For example, if I say, quite subjectively, 'The sky is for me blue', you may think quite differently. However, once I ask, 'Is the sky blue for you?', an objective issue is immediately raised. The question is whether it is true that the sky is blue for you, not whether it is true for you that the sky is blue for you. Forget it. I'm sorry I started on that one!

Now, to me (ugh) the story is saying that wherever we want to 'go', we are already there. The young man wants to get to the other side of the river, only to be told that he is already on the other side of the river.


To reach the other side of the river is to see that this very side here is the other side. When there is no separation in our mind between one side and the other, then in that very moment we are one with the very livingness of life flowing through us and all things. There is no journey! You are already 'there'. Life is proceeding as it will. It is living itself. Be with it, from one moment to the next. In the beautiful words of Thich Nhat Hanh:

I have arrived.
I am home
In the here,
In the now.
I am solid.
I am free.
In the ultimate
I dwell.

When the Buddha woke up, he said, ‘Now all beings have woken up.’ Perhaps he was saying that, in truth, there is no difference between the so-called enlightened state and our ordinary life. We live our life as if we were unenlightened. We simply need to wake up, and we are on the other side.

There is no need to embark upon some 'spiritual journey' to supposedly 'find' yourself ... as if you had misplaced yourself somewhere. There is no journey required to 'reach' the present moment, which is all there is. You are already 'in' it, about to move into the next moment, and then the next, and so on. Life is all here and now - as the present moment - and all we have to do is to perceive it here and now. We need to see each thing for what it really is - a new moment, which just is. What could be more 'real' than that?

Life is not locked away from us. We are in direct 'contact' with it at all times. We need no guru, master or priest of any kind to 'unlock' the supposed inner mysteries of life for us. Life is all 'around' us, and within us. Life is all there is, and it is right here now, to be perceived and appreciated in its entirety. Everything that matters is right here and now - 'in' the here and now.

T S Eliot said it all with these oft-quoted words: ‘We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started ... and know the place for the first time.’ So, forget about 'becoming'; instead, focus on simply be-ing ... and being is never 'there' - it is always here.

The regular practice of mindfulness enables us to open to life in the moment, just as it is. Living mindfully is being open to whatever is and to wherever life is proceeding.

There is nowhere to go. We are already there. We are on the other side.


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Saturday, May 28, 2011

MINDFULNESS IN THE PRESENT FOR THE FUTURE


I have been re-reading some works of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry [pictured below], who has been one of my all-time favourite writers since I first studied his works in French in high school. Many of his books have, at least in part, a sort of existentialist flavour about them.

Saint-Exupéry, who was a Humanist, was a man of action. An aviator, he was one of the pioneers in exploring flight over the desert, the Andes, and at night. He was the prose poet of the skies, and his books are great examples of the genre of writing which I refer to as ‘literary mindfulness’.

His books remind us that we are alone – sometimes terribly alone – and that the only way we can give meaning to our lives is to join others who, like us, seriously accept a certain ‘discipline’ in a quest for a value greater than ourselves. In giving selflessly of ourselves to some great cause we are all born anew.

Saint-Exupéry says, in effect, ‘Why speculate about life, about whether it is useful or useless ... or simply absurd. Give a meaning to life. Do something useful – act – and then you will begin to exist.’ If we do that, we are then freed from the sensation of void which is otherwise all around us. Saint-Exupéry calls this le principe de l’action.

We have to be ‘born’ by means of some acte de naissance, which turns out to be an acte de déliverance, which is the beginning of true freedom. This occurs when, with effort, we focus on a goal outside of ourselves. However, in order to mould the future, we must focus attentively on our present ‘duty’. In Citadelle (The Wisdom of the Sands) Saint-Exupéry writes:

Construire l’avenir, c’est construire le présent. C’est créer un désir qui est pour aujourd’hui, qui est aujourd’hui vers demain.

In English, ‘To build the future is to build the present. It is to create a desire which is for today, which is today about tomorrow.’


Applying all of this to our mindfulness practice, we must always focus on the here and now – the only reality – without dwelling on the future. Yes, we should have goals Saint-Exupéry has much to say about them – but, in his words, ‘to build the future is, primarily and exclusively, to think the present. Even as the creating of the ship is exclusively the inculcating of a trend towards the sea.’
We often link the English word 'present' with that other English word 'moment'. However, the Shakyamuni Buddha is reported to have seen the present as being much wider than a mere moment in time. In the Buddhist concept of time, mindfulness may begin with this moment but it is cultivated through continuity through or over time.

Here is some more wisdom from Saint-Exupéry's Citadelle ... 'there is no progress without acceptance of that which is, the Here and Now  – that from which you are ever setting forth.' Also, 'my forest extends over several domains without, perhaps, covering the whole of any one of them; and, conversely, my domain includes several forests though, perhaps, none of them is wholly contained in it.' After all, is not the 'whole' just a word used to describe the sum total of the 'parts'? Is there really such a thing as the 'whole'?

‘The only course of action which has a meaning,’ writes Saint-Exupéry in Citadelle, ‘is a course of action leading you from God [in whom Saint-Exupéry had, at best, a weak belief], the fountainhead, to those objects of the visible world which have been given by Him a meaning, a colour and an inner life.’

In other words, we must focus our attention, not on the ‘world’ of supposedly transcendental ideas and values, but on the ordinary ‘things’ and objects of existence, the daily occurrences in space and time which comprise our earthly existence. It is there that we will find our true identity.


Yes, it is by means of those little things of our everyday existence that we are able to rise up to greater things, for they contain, in potentiality, those greater things. In the words of Saint-Exupéry, 'A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral,' and 'A single event can awaken within us a stranger totally unknown to us. To live is to be slowly born.'

Saint-Exupéry would agree with the view of Professor John Anderson that any talk of the so-called transcendental must be stated in terms of the common reality we all know. Indeed, it cannot be stated in any other way, there being only one way of being, and one order or level of reality. True pluralism necessitates a complete denial of any conception of a universe or totality or total collection. Totality is simply a relation between container and contained – between whole and part.

Saint-Exupéry disappeared on a reconnaissance flight over the Mediterranean in July 1944. He was never seen again after he took off. His plane simply disappeared. He left behind the unfinished manuscript of Citadelle and some notebooks, which were published posthumously.

In 1998 a fisherman found, east of Riou Island, south of Marseille, Saint-Exupéry’s silver identity bracelet. In 2000 the remains of Saint-Exupéry’s plane were discovered in the seabed off the coast of Marseille, near where the bracelet was found. In 2003 the remains of the plane were recovered. [See photos above.]

‘True love begins,’ he wrote, ‘when nothing is looked for in return.’

[For those who are interested, here is a copy of an address which I gave some years ago on Saint Exupéry's Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince), my all-time favourite book. I intend in due course to do a blog on The Little Prince and its relevance to our practice of mindfulness. Stay tuned.]


Friday, May 27, 2011

THE POWER OF HUMILITY


When I was about 10 or 11, I received from my favourite aunt a birthday card which had on its front cover these words, “When you’re as great as I am, it’s hard to be humble”. (I see that Muhammad Ali is reported to have once uttered those words. Sounds right.)

My parents were horrified at the wording on the card, and almost forbad me to display the card in my room or anywhere else in the house for that matter. However, I never got rid of the card. I thought the wording was very clever, and I still do. Indeed, I still have the card in my possession, some 45 years later, but it is well and truly filed away along with a whole lot of other miscellaneous letters and cards received over the years from well-wishers. What that says about me, I will leave to you to decide.

One of my favourite Bible passages is Luke 18:9-17. It is that well-known Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. There are two men praying, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector (or, in some versions of the Bible, a publican). Now, this particular Pharisee was an obsessed keeper of the letter of the law to the nth degree, and that included praying four times a day, fasting twice a week, and tithing all that he possessed. His own idiosyncratic approach to religion was a triumph of form over substance, with the result that people such as the Pharisee in the parable were seen to have little or no time for so-called “ordinary” persons or “lesser mortals”.
The misbelief – yes, misbelief – that all Pharisees were hypocrites and religious nutters (hence the pejorative words “Pharisee” and “Pharisaical”) is a stereotype. Hyam Macoby, in his seminal book The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity, makes out a very convincing case that not only was Saul of Tarsus (later the Apostle Paul) a Gentile right from the start but that Jesus was a Pharisee.

Macoby’s view about Jesus being a Pharisee –  and other eminent scholars have expressed a similar view on the matter over the years – would later receive strong, unqualified support from the very scholarly and much-respected Rabbi Raymond Apple, then Senior Rabbi of The Great Synagogue, in Sydney NSW. (He was the Senior Rabbi of Sydney’s Great Synagogue [see pictures below] between 1972 and 2005.) In a letter to the editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, entitled “Unjustly maligned”, dated 8 November 1992, and published in the newspaper on 12 November 1992, on p 10, Rabbi Apple wrote:

Reputable scholarship is unanimous that the Pharisees were unjustly maligned by centuries of Christian stereotyping. They were a progressive religious movement dedicated to spiritual and ethical outreach. Far from being hypocrites, they taught love and concern for all God’s creatures. If Jesus’s teaching showed that of any Jewish sect of the time, it echoed the Pharisees.
 
Be that as it may, the main problem with this particular Pharisee, as recorded in Luke 18, was that he was totally self-satisfied and complacent. Instead of thanking his God for the good that God had done for him and presumably for his family as well, the Pharisee congratulated himself, and deliberately compared himself favourably over others, smugly stating that he was glad not to be like them, especially the tax collector standing across the temple court. The tax collector comes into a holy place and knows where he stands, namely before a holy God. He knows he is unworthy even to be there, and, to put it mildly, is acutely aware of the extent to which he has wandered from the path which leads to righteousness. Indeed, he goes further, saying, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” He couldn’t even get himself to look up toward heaven (unlike, presumably, the Pharisee). 

You couldn’t get two more contrasting prayers, but we are told that it was the tax collector who went away “justified”, that is, made right, and freed from the burden and ongoing negative effects (karma, if you like) of his past acts and omissions that were “wrong” in one way or another.

The Bible, as well as all other sacred scriptures of the world’s religions, have much to say on the need for humility. Jesus said that “the greatest among you will be your servant” (Mt 23:11, NRSV). Indeed, all sacred scripture teaches us that no one can be great, in the spiritual sense, unless they are humble.

Humility is not subservience, or refusing to focus on our strengths and good points. In order to properly understand humility one needs to focus, not on its synonyms, but on its antonyms, such as pride, arrogance, haughtiness, presumptuousness, insolence, disdain, contempt, conceitedness, self-absorption, self-obsession, self-centredness, and so forth.

Humility, says Krishnamurti, is 'not meekness ... [nor] a low estimation of one's own importance ... [nor] a state of acquiescence, acceptance ... [nor] humbleness ... [but] an energetic state of mind when it is totally aware of itself, of all its intracies, its limitations, its conditioning, its prejudices, its shortcomings'. As such, humility is not a virtue; it cannot be cultivated - 'it is there, or it is not there'. Humility is self-knowledge ... warts and all!

Harry Emerson Fosdick, an American Baptist minister who was the most enlightened and progressive man of his times in the Christian Church - the greatest Modernist of them all – wrote, “For the lack of [humility] the great empires of the world have fallen, and the dictators have licked the dust.”

You see, humility is truth. That is the simplest, shortest and perhaps the best definition of humility. Accordingly, humility must not result in a denial of one’s good qualities, for being truthful involves a recognition of all of one’s qualities, that is, the good and the not-so-good.

True humility involves more than just not thinking of ourselves more highly than others (cf the Pharisee in Luke 18). True humility involves, among other things, teachableness, not in the form of a preparedness to acquire more worldly knowledge, even concerning spiritual things, though that is not unimportant, but in the form of an honest recognition that there is still so much more for us to know and learn from life. In addition, humility involves a daily letting go and surrender of all that would hold us back. As I see it, karma ceases when we learn the particular lesson which we have thus far failed to learn, and then we can move on. It's a choice – a very empowering idea. You know, it feels pretty good when you stop banging your head against a brick wall.

I mentioned earlier that, not just the Bible, but also other sacred scriptures of the world’s religions have much to say concerning the need for humility. Thus, it comes as no surprise to read in Chapter 13 (verses 8-12) of the Sanskrit Hindu scripture The Bhagavad-Gita the following list of moral and spiritual virtues:

Humility, pridelessness, nonviolence, tolerance, simplicity, approaching a bona fide spiritual master, cleanliness, steadiness and self-control; renunciation of the objects of sense gratification, absence of false ego, the perception of the evil of birth, death, old age and disease; nonattachment to children, wife, home and the rest, and even-mindedness amid pleasant and unpleasant events; constant and unalloyed devotion to Me, resorting to solitary places, detachment from the general mass of people; accepting the importance of self-realization, and philosophical search for the Absolute Truth--all these I thus declare to be knowledge, and what is contrary to these is ignorance.

Notice what is listed first ... humility ... the root of all of the other virtues.

Those who regularly practice mindfulness generally find that humility, along with many of the other moral and spiritual virtues listed above, unfold over time. This is not surprising, for the one “thing” mindfulness does give us is the insight that there is only one life in which all things live, move and have their being, and it is in the very livingness of that one life that we become aware that we are all brothers and sisters. That is, or at least ought to be, a very sobering and humbling thought.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

CANCER SURVIVORS BENEFIT FROM MEDITATION AND MINDFUL YOGA

Having lost my mother and mother-in-law to breast cancer, and my father and father-in-law to other forms of cancer, I have more than an academic interest in the subject of cancer and its treatment. 

The number of cancer patients seeking complementary therapies to deal with their disease has increased steadily in recent decades. Complementary therapies can be helpful to cancer patients because they address some of the pervasive psychosocial difficulties associated with this disease. One mind-body technique is meditation. Another is yoga. There are many others including the use of affirmations and creative visualisation.

The good news the subject of this post is that weekly courses in meditation, mindful yoga and communication can improve the quality of life for cancer patients even years after their diagnosis, according to new data.

The information was presented this week at the 12th annual meeting of the American Society of Breast Surgeons in Washington DC.

"It's important for doctors to know that their patients may still experience psychological distress and they need to ask about it and have resources available," Dr Ruth Lerman (pictured below), a specialist in breast disease and internal medicine, who led the research at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan, told Reuters Health.

"I think that the health value of meditation is remarkable. And it's becoming accepted now in Western medicine," she added.


“Mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, to what’s happening
in the present moment without judgment,” Dr Lerman says.


Dr Lerman's team randomized 68 female cancer patients (a treatment group of 48 and control group of 20) in September 2010. The treatment group attended weekly two-hour classes for 8 weeks. They learned meditation and communication skills, and practised meditation at home an average of 30 minutes per day.

All patients then rated their quality of life on a questionnaire and stress and symptom lists. The treatment group improved in all respects. Relevantly, participants showed a significant improvement in post-cancer symptoms and quality of life. According to Dr Lerman, herself a two-time breast cancer survivor, the effect sizes were moderate. There were no significant improvements in the control group.

The 8-week wellness program is called “Silver Linings”. The program is designed for women who have survived any type of cancer and includes meditation, yoga, breast awareness/self-exam, mindful listening and expressive writing. The program aims to help cancer survivors explore and heal the physical, emotional and spiritual effects of the disease. Explains Dr Lerman, “Facing life after cancer is challenging. Our unique, eight-week program teaches participants the tools of empowerment.”

"Mindfulness," says Dr Lehman, "is paying attention, on purpose, to what's happening in the present moment without judgment."

Dr Lerman, who also has an interest in alternative forms of healing including various forms of spiritual healing from her Jewish faith tradition, has been requested to submit the study for publication in the Annals of Surgical Oncology.

For more information on the study, click here.

Numerous studies have been done on how mindfulness affects cancer patients. One of the foremost experts, Dr Linda E Carlson, co-author of Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery: A Step-by-Step MBSR Approach to Help You Cope with Treatment and Reclaim Your Life found patients with mixed cancer diagnoses who participated in mindfulness training had lower mood disturbance and stress symptoms after mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and those improvements were maintained at a 6 month follow-up.

Another study by Carlson and colleagues found patients with early-stage breast and prostate cancer experienced improvements in quality of life, symptoms of stress, and sleep quality.


This blog sets out a simple form of mindfulness sitting meditation.




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Monday, May 23, 2011

DYLAN THOMAS AND THE ART OF LITERARY MINDFULNESS


My two favourite plays are Under Milk Wood and Our Town. Both are wonderful examples of what I refer to as ‘literary mindfulness’ – analogous stream of consciousness writing where the form of the written text presents, in a direct, unmediated and observant fashion, images piled one on top of the other which are neither entirely verbal nor textual.

Dylan Thomas wrote Under Milk Wood in 1954 as a play for radio ... a 'play for voices'. It covers twenty-four hours in the life of an imaginary - but otherwise very ‘real’ - small coastal village in Wales called ‘Llareggub’ [re-spelt, much to Thomas' dislike, in early editions of the play (see below) as 'Llaregyb' so as not to offend]. (Read 'Llareggub' backwards – pure Dylan Thomas!)

It is night. All the citizens of Llareggub are asleep. As you read these opening lines from the play, try to envisage the reality behind the words themselves. Let your imagination move from one image to the next ... ‘noting’ the pleasure or pain of each passing, ever so transient, moment ... pausing just long enough to capture the moment before it disappears into the giant abyss ... always remembering to stay present from one moment to the next.

Alternatively, or additionally, you can listen to the rich, resonant voice of Richard Burton as he reads the lines that follow.

Either way, let it be for you an exercise in mindfulness training, for that is what it is ...

To begin at the beginning:

It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters'-and-rabbits' wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea. The houses are blind as moles (though moles see fine to-night in the snouting, velvet dingles) or blind as Captain Cat there in the muffled middle by the pump and the town clock, the shops in mourning, the Welfare Hall in widows' weeds. And all the people of the lulled and dumbfound town are sleeping now.

Hush, the babies are sleeping, the farmers, the fishers, the tradesmen and pensioners, cobbler, schoolteacher, postman and publican, the undertaker and the fancy woman, drunkard, dressmaker, preacher, policeman, the webfoot cocklewomen and the tidy wives. Young girls lie bedded soft or glide in their dreams, with rings and trousseaux, bridesmaided by glowworms down the aisles of the organplaying wood. The boys are dreaming wicked or of the bucking ranches of the night and the jollyrodgered sea. And the anthracite statues of the horses sleep in the fields, and the cows in the byres, and the dogs in the wetnosed yards; and the cats nap in the slant corners or lope sly, streaking and needling, on the one cloud of the roofs.

You can hear the dew falling, and the hushed town breathing. Only your eyes are unclosed to see the black and folded town fast, and slow, asleep. And you alone can hear the invisible starfall, the darkest-beforedawn minutely dewgrazed stir of the black, dab-filled sea where the Arethusa, the Curlew and the Skylark, Zanzibar, Rhiannon, the Rover, the Cormorant, and the Star of Wales tilt and ride.

Listen. It is night moving in the streets, the processional salt slow musical wind in Coronation Street and Cockle Row, it is the grass growing on Llaregyb Hill, dewfall, starfall, the sleep of birds in Milk Wood.

Listen. It is night in the chill, squat chapel, hymning in bonnet and brooch and bombazine black, butterfly choker and bootlace bow, coughing like nannygoats, sucking mintoes, fortywinking hallelujah; night in the four-ale, quiet as a domino; in Ocky Milkman's lofts like a mouse with gloves; in Dai Bread's bakery flying like black flour. It is to-night in Donkey Street, trotting silent, With seaweed on its hooves, along the cockled cobbles, past curtained fernpot, text and trinket, harmonium, holy dresser, watercolours done by hand, china dog and rosy tin teacaddy. It is night neddying among the snuggeries of babies.

Look. It is night, dumbly, royally winding through the Coronation cherry trees; going through the graveyard of Bethesda with winds gloved and folded, and dew doffed; tumbling by the Sailors Arms.

Time passes. Listen. Time passes.


The Dylan Thomas Boathouse at Laugharne
 '... an ugly, lovely town ... crawling, sprawling ... by the side of a long
and splendid curving shore. This sea-town was my world.'

 
What craftsmanship! What attention to detail! What imagery! What curiosity! And what good ‘advice’ with respect to the art of mindfulness ... Begin at the beginning ... Hush ... Listen ... Look ... Time passes ...

Your eyes are always ‘unclosed’ in mindfulness ... even when they are closed. You see, you are always watching something ... for you are ever ‘awake’. Bare attention. Choiceless awareness.

Dylan Thomas knew that life –  the one life –  was to be lived from one moment to the next. The wonder and beauty and ‘meaning’ (ugh!) of life is to be found in the minutiae of the mundane and the everyday – in 'this world order, the same for all', in the words of the early Greek philosopher Heraclitus. That is reality ... and reality just is.

So, don’t look afar for what you seek. Stay with the imagery of one image after another ... and, yes, live on the 'surface' for, paradoxically, that is where the 'depth' is to be found. Take, as you find them, the events and occurrences of daily life, and accept any 'meanings' they may present. Seek not any 'hidden purpose' nor any so-called 'ultimate reality' – there are no 'ultimates' as such – other than the one order or level of reality – the one way of being – in which all things live and move and have their being.

Is that not enough for you?


Under Milk Wood: Copyright 1954 by New Directions Publishing Corporation. All Rights Reserved.


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Saturday, May 21, 2011

MINDFULNESS IN THE BIBLE


As a fearless fighter against the pretensions of religious fundamentalism – a wicked ideology if ever there was one – and illiberalism of all kinds, I say that it’s time for freethinkers and libertarians to ... reclaim the Bible!

What is the Bible?

There is no single Bible.

For a Jew the Bible consists only of the Hebrew Scriptures.

As for Christians, they can’t even agree on what the Bible is!

I always use a Catholic version of the Bible comprising 73 books – 7 more than the 'Protestant Bible'. Why? Because Jesus used the Septuagint, which is the oldest Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Now, the Septuagint contains those very same 7 'additional' books – the so-called Apocryphal, more correctly entitled Deuterocanonical, Books. Indeed, more than two thirds of the Old Testament passages quoted in the New Testament are taken from the Septuagint.

The audacity of the Protestant “Reformers” who chucked out those books of the Bible – books that had been embraced by Jesus and his apostles! Don’t believe the silly evangelical Protestant nonsense that those additional 7 books were supposedly added by Rome in the 16th Century. That is simply not the case.

Moving on – Once you free yourself from the notion that just because the Bible says something, it must be true, and true for all time, a whole new world opens for you. The Bible has much in it that is beautiful and inspiring ... and also much that is simply appalling. Do not accept anything that offends against your sensibilities or is contrary to reason.

Today, we are going to look at some Bible passages that touch on certain aspects of life or the human mind that are relevant to the practice of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is not peculiarly Buddhist

Now, mindfulness can refer to a specific type or practice of meditation used as a psychological and educational tool in Theravāda Buddhism (a naturalistic form of Buddhism of which there are a number of different schools) known as Vipassanā Meditation.

However, mindfulness is not restricted to Buddhism, Buddhists or Buddhist meditation. Indeed, there are several different types or forms of Buddhist meditation, and Buddhists do not claim to “own” or have a monopoly on mindfulness and mindfulness meditation.

Also, mindfulness is totally different from all other forms of meditation in that it is something you do throughout the whole day, namely, remembering to stay present, in the present, from one moment to the next. whilst paying attention, on purpose, to what’s happening in the present moment, without judgment. Your whole life becomes one extended exercise in meditative awareness of what is.

Any person can practise mindfulness, irrespective of their religion or lack of religion.


Mindfulness requires an attentive mind – bare attention is the phrase – but also a curious state of mind. What could be more 'curious' than this (and notice also the openness and perceptiveness of the senses) ...

What is that coming up from the wilderness,
   like a column of smoke,
perfumed with myrrh and frankincense,
   with all the fragrant powders of the merchant? (Sg 3:6)

So vivid! You can almost smell it in your very own nostrils.

Mindfulness as a calm acceptance of what is

Now, if there is an underlying 'philosophy' to mindfulness it is a calm acceptance of whatever may befall us. Listen to these wonderful passages from the world-weary book Ecclesiastes:

A generation goes, and a generation comes,
   but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun goes down,
   and hurries to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south,
   and goes round to the north;
round and round goes the wind,
   and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
   but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
   there they continue to flow. (Ec 1:4-7)

[Hey, those last four lines are pure Zen!]



For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace. (Ec 3:1-8)

... the same fate comes to all, to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil,* to the clean and the unclean, to those who sacrifice and those who do not sacrifice. As are the good, so are the sinners; those who swear are like those who shun an oath. (Ec 9:2)

Mindfulness as joy

Don’t get the wrong idea. Mindfulness is not mere Stoicism. There is much joy associated with the regular practice of mindfulness, so beautifully typified in this passage from that naughty book the Song of Songs:

for now the winter is past,
   the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
   the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtle-dove
   is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
   and the vines are in blossom;
   they give forth fragrance. (Sg 2:11-13)


Notice, once again, the non-judgmental bare alertness and attention to detail, and the choiceless awareness of what is ... the flowers ... the sound of the turtle-dove ... the figs on the fig-tree ... the grapes on the vine, and their fragrance. That’s mindfulness in action!


The practice of mindfulness

Listen to this sound advice with respect to your mindfulness meditation:

... ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ (Mk 6:31)

Of course, mindfulness is to be practised from moment to moment ... even in a busy street. I love this passage from Isaiah:

... in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. ... (Is 30:15)

Yes, quietness ... even amidst the hurly-burly of everyday life. The choice is yours, so make up your mind to be open and attentive to whatever is your consciousness ...

You will decide on a matter, and it will be established for you,
   and light will shine on your ways. (Jb 22:28)

Mindfulness is a non-judgmental state of mind. The Bible constantly advises us not to judge. Maybe life is unfair ...

... for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (Mt 5:45)

... but, ‘do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment’ (Jn 7:24). So, let us watch our minds and maintain emotional equanimity and right relations with other people ...

Keep your heart with all vigilance,
   for from it flow the springs of life. (Pr 4:23)

One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
   and one whose temper is controlled than one who captures a city.
(Pr 16:32)

If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
(Rm 12:18)

Do not worry

The Bible advises us not to worry:

‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink,* or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?* And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God* and his* righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (Mt 6:25-34)



Mindfulness as a source of strength and power

No matter what happens to you in life, you need not despair:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; (2 Co 4:8)

for, ‘as your days, so is your strength’ (Dt 33:25). Live from day to day and, even more importantly, from one moment to the next ... and you will have all the power you need!

Mindfulness is about being patient and gentle on yourself. Here is some sound advice from Romans:

Blessed are those who have no reason to condemn themselves because of what they approve. (Rm 14:22)

Finally, mindfulness, which gives us so much insight into ourselves, other people and life generally, is highly transformative. Why else would we do it? I have always loved this passage from Romans:

... be transformed by the renewing of your minds ... (Rm 12:2)

That’s the spirit!


This blog sets out a simple form of mindfulness sitting meditation.


Scripture references are taken from the Catholic edition of The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, © 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. The New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition is fully approved for study by Catholics by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved.


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