Thursday, December 29, 2011

MINDFULNESS IN THE CHRISTIAN TRADITION


Mindfulness in Christianity? Yes, most definitively. The practice of mindfulness can be found in all spiritual traditions and also outside all such traditions.

I could go back much further, but let’s start with the anonymous author of the 14th century English classic of Christian devotion and mysticism The Cloud of Unknowing, in which it is written, ‘God may well be loved, but not thought. By love he can be taught and held, but by thinking never.’ In other words, God is known in the direct experience of God as opposed to thinking about God. It is truly an experience of waiting in silence upon God. Another Biblical metaphor I love is the image of ‘dwelling in the secret place of the Most High’ (Ps 91:1).

Then there’s the wonderful 17th century French monk Brother Lawrence (pictured left). He was a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery. His unique approach to living in a Christian way ‘in the moment’ is encapsulated in that wonderful book The Practice of the Presence of God which was compiled after Brother Lawrence died by one of those whom he inspired, Father Joseph de Beaufort, later vicar general to the Archbishop of Paris.

For Brother Lawrence, ‘common business,’ no matter how mundane or routine, was the medium of God's omnipresence (‘All-ness’) and love. He would say, ‘Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do … We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.’ In other words, Brother Lawrence found God present in whatever happened, or needed to be done, in the moment. He was choicelessly aware of the presence of his Lord in the sacredness of each moment. It didn’t matter whether he was washing dishes in the kitchen or kneeling at the altar to pray. The Divine was ever-present, and fully present, in each moment.

There is much of a Zen-like quality to the ideas contained in The Practice of the Presence of God. For those who are interested, there’s a fascinating book entitled Brother Lawrence: A Christian Zen Master. It’s a great read.

Many Christians find it helpful to ‘imagine’ that Jesus is tangibly with them throughout the day, walking with them as they walk down the street, or sitting next to them whilst they are at work or asleep.

The writings and theology of Dr Leslie Weatherhead (pictured below left) have meant a lot to me in my life. Weatherhead struggled, as I always have, with many supposedly key doctrines of the Christian faith, yet there was a depth about his writings on the Christian faith which is sadly lacking in most Christian books today. He wrote many great books on the subject of Christian healing and, along with Dr Norman Vincent Peale, he was a pioneer in pastoral psychology, that is, the merger of theology and psychology.

Weatherhead liked to tell the story of an old Scot who was quite ill. The man’s family called for their dominie, or pastor. When the pastor entered the sick room he noticed another chair on the opposite side of the bed. The chair had been drawn close to the bed. The pastor said, ‘Well, Donald, I see I'm not your first visitor for the day.’

The old man was puzzled for a moment but soon worked out that the pastor had noticed the empty chair. ‘Well, Pastor, I'll tell you about that chair. Many years ago I found it quite difficult to pray, so one day I shared this problem with my pastor. He told me not to worry about kneeling or about placing myself in some pious posture. Instead, he said, “Just sit down, put a chair opposite you, and imagine Jesus sitting in it, then talk with Him as you would a friend.”’ The old man then added, ‘I've been doing that ever since.’

A short time later the daughter of the Scot called the pastor. When he answered, she informed him that her father had quite recently died very suddenly. She said, ‘I had just gone to lie down for an hour or two, for he seemed to be sleeping so comfortably. When I went back he was dead.’ Then she added, ‘Except now his hand was on the empty chair at the side of the bed. Isn't that strange?’ The pastor said, ‘No, it's not so strange. I understand.’

I mentioned above Norman Vincent Peale. In one of his books, written especially for young readers, entitled The Coming of the King, Dr Peale wrote that ‘the real purpose of time is for the discernment of God.’ That’s quite profound, for the One who is said to be beyond time can only be experienced from moment to moment in time. (In Zen there is the view that as we live in each moment, and as we act, we are the temporal activity of the Buddha. Indeed, it is ‘being Buddha.’) In another of his books Jesus of Nazareth Peale wrote of the need to ‘bring [Jesus] out of the mists of unreality and cause him to live in our time,’ noting that ‘whenever Jesus is made really to live he exercises the same strangely moving fascination with which he stirred his contemporaries.’ (NOTE. For those who are interested in the writings and ideas of Dr Peale, I have compiled and edited a book entitled The Norman Vincent Peale Book of Quotations.)

Now, there is, in Catholic Christianity, a long tradition of what is known as ‘imaginative reflection.’ In his book Any News of God? Catholic liturgist Christopher Kiesling, who was professor of systematic theology at Aquinas Institute of Theology in St Louis, Missouri, writes, ‘One can imagine what it would be like to live with Jesus, to eat with him, listen to him preach, converse with him. One can re-create in imagination various Gospel scenes. Kiesling is at pains to point out that imaginative experience of Jesus is ‘not pure fantasy, devoid of human experience.’

Erik Walker Wikstrom, the pastor of Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church - Unitarian Universalist, in Charlottesville, Virginia, has written something very similar in his book Teacher, Guide, Companion: Rediscovering Jesus in a Secular World. Wikstrom writes:

Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit. … Sit still. Close your eyes. Now call to mind an image of Jesus. It might be a picture you’ve seen in a children’s Bible, or on TV, or in a movie. It might be something that pops into your mind without any obvious reference. Whatever the image is, wherever it comes from, allow yourself to linger with it, taking in all the details. Can you observe anything about the place where you see Jesus? Can you tell the time of the day? The season? Bring the image to life, using all of your senses. Can you imagine sounds or smells? Place yourself in the scene. Can you feel the sun on your back or the wind in your hair? Be aware especially of how you feel inside – what are your emotional reactions, and how does Jesus ‘feel’ to you?

In an appealing booklet How to Make Jesus Your Best Friend Dr Norman Vincent Peale had earlier recommended likewise. He wrote, 'Visualize yourself sitting on a grassy hillside, overlooking a lake, and listening to Jesus. Let the sights, sounds, and smells of a beautiful spring day relax you, as the truths of the lesson fill your mind.' Also, 'Believe that Jesus is with you, and act "as if" he is beside you each day.'

Skeptics will say, ‘Well, we can imagine or creatively visualize all kinds of things, but that doesn’t make them real.’ Really? Whatever presents before us as our thoughts, feelings, images and memories are just as real as so-called material things. They are all part of the one order or level of reality – the one ‘way of being.’ They are still ‘things’ of which we can be mindfully aware. I am not advocating a retreat from the real world, but an imaginative and fulsome participation in it, using the intellect, the emotions and the will.

Much has been written on ‘centering prayer,’ which is a method of silent prayer in the contemplative tradition in which God's omnipresence is experienced within us closer than breathing, closer than thinking, indeed closer than consciousness itself. In the words of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, ‘Closer is he than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet.’ During the course of a session of centering prayer in which one sits quietly, one silently introduces a previously chosen ‘sacred word’ (eg ‘God,’ ‘Jesus,’ ‘Mary,’ ‘Love,’ ‘Peace’) as the symbol of one’s consent to the Divine omnipresence. Whenever a thought (an umbrella term for every perception, sensation, feeling, image, memory, etc) arises, one returns ever-so-gently to one’s sacred word.

Centering prayer has many of the attributes of mindfulness meditation. In the latter, one ordinarily brings one’s attention back to the sensation of one’s breath whenever a thought, etc, arises. In centering prayer one returns to one’s sacred word. It’s very similar. Here’s a short YouTube video on centering prayer, presented by its leading exponent, if not founder, Fr Thomas Keating:




The bottom line, as I see it, is this … there is only life, consisting of living things living out their livingness. That is the only ‘way of being,’ and it is sacred or divine. Call it the ‘All-ness of God,’ if you wish. Yes, life is forever ‘evidencing’ itself as the all and only presence. So, the presence, indeed omnipresence of God, in which the image, person and consciousness of Jesus is also an ever-present reality, is just another way of describing life’s self-expression – that is, the action of the present moment, from one moment to the next. Mindfulness, in a Christian context, is nothing other than the practice of the presence of God. Thus, living mindfully, for a Christian, is living from and in the God-Presence within. It is an awakened state of thought and mind, which recognises that in – yes, in – God, and Jesus, ‘we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28).

It is said, ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth’ (Mt 5:5). Few understand what is meant by the words ‘meek’ and ‘earth.’ First, the word ‘meek,’ which does not mean timid or weak. No, a meek person is a teachable person – that is, one who is, yes, gentle but also open-minded, that is, perfectly willing to allow the Will of God to unfold in whatever way the Divine considers to be best. Such a mental attitude is referred to in the practice of mindfulness as choiceless awareness – that is, acknowledging whatever is. Secondly, the ‘earth’ refers to the whole of one’s outer experience.

Thus, in the words of the old metaphysical maxim, ‘As within, so without.’ If you are meek, you will have power or dominion over whatever happens in your life.

That is living victoriously … and mindfully.



THE NATIVITY STORY: A STUDY IN MINDFULNESS

THE NATURE AND POWER OF MINDFUL PRAYER

DESTRESS YOURSELF WITH MINDFULNESS ... IN THE SILENCE

MINDFULNESS---A VERY PRESENT HELP IN TROUBLE

THE LIGHT THAT MINDFULLY ENLIGHTENS ALL THINGS

MINDFULNESS AND ISLAM



Thursday, December 22, 2011

THE NATIVITY STORY: A STUDY IN MINDFULNESS


I love Christmas! I love it as much as I did when I was a small child.

I have written elsewhere on the Nativity Story, and what follows is derived in substantial part from that earlier writing. Now, the Nativity Story is not just an account of the birth of Jesus who, I am sure, was a real person, and who is both the symbol and the reality of the spiritual 'experience' described in this blog. What experience? Well, the Nativity Story is a ‘mystery’ … a ‘myth’ (in the true sense of that word) … that is, a symbolic representation of the birth of the ‘Christ Child’ within our ‘hearts.’ Additionally, and in a more practical sense, the Nativity Story is a symbolic representation of the art and science of mindfulness.

Carl Jung called this ‘Child’ the ‘Divine Child.’ Emmet Fox called it the ‘Wonder Child,’ the indwelling Presence of God within each of us. Charles Whitfield calls it the ‘Child Within.’ Some psychotherapists and religionists refer to it as the ‘Real Self’ or the ‘True Self’ in contradistinction to that illusory false ‘self’ which we mistakenly think is us.


For me, the birth of the Christ Child refers to the awakening within us of the conscious but choiceless awareness of the indwelling presence within us of life, truth and love. Call it 'God,' if you wish, but we are certainly not talking about some far-away, anthropomorphic Deity. No matter how we try to describe this ultimately ineffable but otherwise very real experience, there is a penetrating and illuminating awareness of a 'larger reality,' even though that reality is still grounded in, and otherwise very much part of, so-called 'ordinary' reality. Such an awareness is, in this very special instance, occasioned by a profound sense of the numinous – that is, the awe-inspiringly sacred or holy. 

First, there’s the Virgin Mary, to whom the angel Gabriel speaks in such a special way. Only a mind which is alert and mindfully aware of, and in love with, life, truth and love - yes, a pure mind - can give birth to the Wonder Child. There needs to be a conscious, mindful orientation of thought and affection towards spiritual (that is, non-material) things and a radical detachment from all earthly and material things. Mary symbolises all of this. (This is all lost on most of the 'occupants' of the so-called 'big end of town' - the Herods - who follow an altogether different 'star,' being 'guided' by a different set of 'wise' men and women – just like the original Herod, who, we are told, consulted his own astrologers ... but was unable to find the Christ Child.)

Yes, the Virgin Mother listens and then waits … patiently ... and with 'curiosity.' 'Conception' is by perception. That is why it is said to be a 'virgin' birth. Never forget that. We perceive ... and then conceive.

Now, the Wonder Child is born in a stable. Why? Because 'there was no place' in the inn.  Yes, truth is always born in humble and seemingly unworthy surroundings. The Wonder Child can never be born in the inn - that is, in the heart of the person who has no ‘room’ for spiritual ideals and truths ... the person who is too busy and too proud to let the Child come to life.

The Child is born in a stable, not into a palace. (Take note, all who preach a prosperity gospel.) The only precondition is the willingness to have one’s ego deflated with the humble acknowledgment that the self that is held in bondage cannot change itself because it has no power of itself. Only a power-not-oneself can deliver us and relieve us from the bondage of self. The experience is a 'birth,' but every birth is also a 'death,' in this case a death to 'self,' and all that entails.

Yes, the recovered [or recovering] alcoholics and addicts of this world know the reality of the inner birth of the Wonder Child. They have experienced it ... in all its wonder! So have those who have triumphed in their spirit against cancer and other serious illness, even if many of them ultimately succumb to their illness in their bodies. We are talking about the indomitability of the human spirit ... where the word human is simply not 'big' enough to capture the essence and character of the experience – an experience which is nothing other than ... divine!

Who are they who are 'chosen' (or rather choose) to experience and know?  The shepherds! Persons who live close to the earth and the simple, lovely things of earth. Those who are patient, humble, resourceful and above all faithful. Those who, in Biblical language, ‘keep watch over their flock by night’ – that is, those who are always being mindfully aware of, and alert to, their thoughts as well as what is happening from one moment to the next, those who (in the words of Mary Baker Eddy) 'stand porter at the door of thought.' The shepherds did still more. They also watched and listened. They heard some sort of ‘heavenly music.’ Yes, to them came 'the angel of the Lord.' So, what did they do? They ‘came with haste,’ to ‘see this thing which is come to pass.’ Powerful imagery, indeed. It is not irreverent to assert that these people lived mindfully in the fullest sense of the word.

Then there’s the star---the 'blazing star' of the Mysteries---given to the watching ones. There’s a star that shines for all of us. It is an inner light, and it shines within each one of us. Call it our 'divine spark,' if you like. It is the light, or state of consciousness, in the form of an inner illumination which leads us to the one, true Light that enlightens each of us (cf Jn 1: 9). Can you see that star? Be still. Look within. Be aware that you are aware. Observe. Notice. Let be. Then you will see your star shine forth! Yes, it will glow in your heart, and others around you will notice the incredible change that has occurred in you. However, we must continue to mindfully follow the star throughout our lives, for the star is our life purpose ... as well as our spiritual practice (which includes but is not limited to our mindfulness practice).

And then there are the wise men from the east. Astronomers, or perhaps astrologers. They, too, watched. They, too, observed. They, too, noticed. They watched the heavens, and they saw … a star – indeed, ‘the rising of his star.’ Like Mary, and like the shepherds, the wise men perceived. What did they perceive? A revelation of reality ... in a very special and intense way. Theologians tell us we can know the Divine only as the Divine chooses to reveal Itself to us. So, we must listen to that ‘still, small voice’ within us that says … this is the way! In the words of John Oxenham, 'To every man there openeth/ A way, and ways and a WAY.'

Then there’s the Wonder Child himself, full of glory, full of might. May you find that Child … now!

May you have the spirit of Christmas which is peace, the gladness of Christmas which is hope, and the heart of Christmas which is love. 



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Sunday, December 18, 2011

MINDFULNESS AND THE TOTALITY OF ALL THINGS


The Samyutta Nikāya (‘Connected Discourses’ or ‘Kindred Sayings’) is a Buddhist scripture, the third of the five nikāyas (collections) in the Sutta Pitaka, which is one of the ‘three baskets’ that compose the Pāli Tripitaka (or ‘Pāli Canon’) of Theravāda Buddhism. The Pāli Canon is the earliest collection of Buddhist teachings and the only collection of sacred texts formally recognised as ‘canonical’ by Theravāda Buddhists. (Of course, as any ‘good’ Buddhist knows – or ought to know – Buddha himself affirmed, ‘Believe nothing because it is written in ancient books.’)

Now, here is a most illuminating sutra from the Samyutta Nikāya known as ‘The Sutra on Totality’:

Monks, I will teach you the totality of life. Listen, attend carefully to it and I will speak.
     What, monks, is totality?
It is just the eye
with the objects of sight,
the ear with the objects of hearing,
the nose with the objects of smell,
the tongue with the objects of taste,
the body with the objects of touch
and the mind with the objects of cognition.
This, monks, is called totality.
     Now, if anyone were to say, ‘Aside from this explanation of totality, I will preach another totality,’ that person would be speaking empty words, and being questioned would not be able to answer. Why is this? Because that person is talking about something outside of all possible knowledge.

As I have said before, Shakyamuni Buddha was a radical empiricist. He taught people how to realize for themselves enlightenment ... by direct experience. He encouraged his followers to ‘come and see’ (ehipassiko), that is, to investigate for themselves whether or not his teachings worked – as opposed to placing reliance on blind faith. Yes, investigate for yourself and then make up your own mind based upon the evidence.  Buddhism is a very down-to-earth set of teachings. In one sense, Buddhism is very Aristotelian (as opposed to Platonic). At the risk of over-simplification, the essence of Buddhism is – what you see is what you get. That is all there is, but it is more than enough!

The Sutra on Totality makes that point perfectly clear. The ‘totality of life’ is the sum total of what you see, what you hear, what you smell, what you taste, what you touch, and what you think. Now what could be more ‘empirical’ than that? Yes, Buddhism, in its philosophy, is a form of radical empiricism.

The Buddha affirms that if someone preaches – I love his use of that word – ‘another reality,’ that person is speaking ‘empty words.’ Well, all I can say is that there are a lot of preachers speaking ‘empty words,’ and that includes all those preachers – Christian or other – who would have you believe there are ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ levels of reality as well as ‘natural’ and so-called ‘supernatural’ existence. Buddha says, in effect, if people affirm the existence of such things, they are talking about ‘something outside of all possible knowledge.’

My favourite philosopher John Anderson (pictured left) said as much when he wrote that any notion of there being different orders or levels of reality or truth was ‘contrary to the very nature and possibility of discourse.’ Such thinking (if that be the right word for it) was, according to Anderson, ‘unspeakable’ … indeed, meaningless. Anderson referred to this as the ‘problem of commensurability.’

It is important to note that Buddha was agnostic on whether there was ‘another reality.’ (Buddha was also agnostic as to the existence of God. He also never actually denied the existence of the ‘self,’ for to do so is itself arguably an act of self-identification.) According to Buddha, there may be ‘another reality,’ but if there is, we can have no knowledge of it. Such a reality is, therefore, unspeakable.

‘Empty words’ – that sums up most theology … and a lot of philosophy as well. Stick to what is tangible, that is, occurrences in time and space. That is where you have your everyday existence. That is where you are grounded – even where you are mindfully unaware of it.

Here's something else to ponder. There is no such thing as the 'universe.' That's right! The word 'universe' is just that - a word. It simply means the sum 'total' of all there is, with the totality of all things being what is known as a 'closed system.' Each 'thing' is a cause of at least one other 'thing' as well as being the effect of some other 'thing,' so everything is explainable by reference to everything else. End of story. Hence, all theological talk of the supposed need for some 'first cause' is ... well, nonsense! As Professor Anderson pointed out, 'there can be no contrivance of a "universe" or totality of things, because the contriver would have to be included in the totality of things.' (In any event, the entire notion of a supposed 'Being' - the 'contriver' - whose essential attributes [eg omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience] are non-empirical is unintelligible. Further, why would a supposedly supernatural 'contriver' bother to 'create' a natural universe ... assuming for the moment it was created?)

Anderson, himself an empiricist, wrote of the 'facts of complexity and interaction,' and the 'influence of the other things with which [things] come in contact.' Buddhists refer to this interconnectedness of all things - Thich Nhat Hanh calls it 'InterBeing' - as 'dependent origination' (or 'dependent arising'), and it makes much more sense than certain alternative worldviews.

And where does mindfulness fit into all of this? Well, mindfulness is the only way to be fully ‘connected’ to the ‘totality of things’ as things unfold from one moment to the next. Why is it the only way, you may ask? Well, there is only life, and living things living out their livingness as occurrences in time and space. That is the ‘way of being.’ The fact is that each one of us is such an ‘occurrence,’ and mindfulness is simply the immediate and direct awareness of occurrences as they happen – live and in full colour!



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Friday, December 16, 2011

STUDY SUPPORTS MINDFUL EATING AND MEDITATION FOR WEIGHT LOSS

Recent research at UC San Francisco indicates that meditation could help people to control their dietary habits and thereby lose weight.  Although this particular research study is small-scale, its findings are consistent with other studies of mindfulness.

The researchers took a randomized group of 47 overweight women – albeit a small test group – and divided them into two groups. Each group received training on the basics of diet and exercise, but no diets were prescribed to either group.Move up Move down  The experimental group received training in ‘mindful eating’ and meditation in weekly sessions. In the mindful eating training, the women were trained to experience the moment-by-moment sensory experience of eating. They also meditated for 30 minutes each day.

The goal of the experiment was two-fold – to use mindful eating to help control cravings and overeating, and to use meditation as a stress relief to prevent ‘comfort eating.’ The preliminary results showed that they were successful. The women in the control group gained weight, while those in the control group maintained their weight and showed significant reductions in their cortisol levels (high cortisol levels are a side effect of stress).

‘You’re training the mind to notice, but to not automatically react based on habitual patterns - to not reach for a candy bar in response to feeling anger, for example,’ says UC San Francisco researcher Dr Jennifer Daubenmier (pictured left).  ‘If you can first recognize what you are feeling before you act, you have a greater chance of making a wiser decision.’

The UC San Francisco findings are certainly consistent with numerous brain studies showing that mindfulness brings about changes in brain areas responsible for body sensations, especially body sensations related to hunger and craving. The changes occur in the brain area called the ‘insula.’ (Interestingly, it has been shown that 'damage' to that part of the brain disrupts addiction to cigarette smoking.)

It should be mentioned that the difference in the weight changes reported in the UC San Francisco study only applied to the women in the study who were classified as ‘obese’ by their BMI. Overall, there wasn’t a statistically significant difference between the control group and the experimental group when it came to weight. However, the stress levels were different, which is not at all surprising. That also is consistent with many other studies on the effects of mindfulness.

Finally, here is what I think is a very helpful video (courtesy YouTube) on mindful eating – full of practical hints and advice:

video


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Sunday, December 11, 2011

MINDFULNESS ACCORDING TO WILLIAM WORDSWORTH

This may sound like rank heresy – which in any event I’m very good at – but it seems, having read a couple of full-length biographies of the man, that the English poet William Wordsworth (pictured left, and below) - a mystical giant of the Romantic Age - must have been a most egotistical man. In one sense, that is rather ironic, for despite the egotism – or perhaps as a result of it – Wordsworth had an incredible insight into the illusory nature of the ‘self’ and was thus cognisant of the nature of reality as a ‘process’ – for want of a better word – which unfolds from one moment to the next. That is the essence of mindfulness.

Now, it has been said that Wordsworth’s most pretentious and perhaps egotistical poem was a long autobiographical account of his ‘development’ as a poet. He originally planned to call this three-part poem ‘The Recluse.’ Only two of the three parts were ever written – ‘The Excursion’ (1814) and ‘The Prelude’ (1850). The latter, according to Helen Davies, is ‘unique among English poems, in that it possesses the double value of art and authenticity.’

Set out below, sourced from that wonderful anthology, The Rider Book of Mystical Verse, is a manuscript fragment of some verse penned by Wordsworth and apparently intended for ‘The Prelude.’ The fragment was contained in a manuscript notebook containing 'Peter Bell.' In these twenty rarely quoted lines the master shows that he understood the nature of so-called ‘consciousness’, which he describes as ‘forms and images/ Which float along our minds’, being mental images ‘not worthy to be deemed/ Our being, to be prized as what we are.’ Indeed, these waxing and waning ‘I’ moments are nothing but ‘the very littleness of life’ – ‘accidents,/ Relapses from the one interior life/ That lives in all things.’

That is very profound. There is a supposed ‘self’ which we mistakenly believe is the real ‘person’ each of us is. Then there is the real person. The former are mere ‘forms,’ ‘images,’ and ‘accidents.’ The latter is the very livingness of life itself that ‘lives in all things, sacred [that is, set apart – the true meaning of the word] from the touch/ Of that false secondary power [namely, ‘mental agitation’ in the form of thoughts and images arising out of our illusory sense of self] by which/ In weakness we create distinctions.’ Wordsworth goes on to refer to ‘our puny boundaries’ [the result of judgments, analysis and criticism ... as well as beliefs and prejudices] which we mistakenly believe are actual ‘things.’ It is the ultimate in ‘self [sic]-deception,’ and the whole thing prevents us from seeing and experiencing ‘things’ as they really are.

Here are the lines:

I seemed to learn,
That what we see of forms and images
Which float along our minds, and what we feel
Of active or recognisable thought,
Prospectiveness, or intellect, or will,
Not only is not worthy to be deemed
Our being, to be prized as what we are,
But is the very littleness of life.
Such consciousness I deem but accidents,
Relapses from the one interior life
That lives in all things, sacred from the touch
Of that false secondary power by which
In weakness we create distinctions, then
Believe that all our puny boundaries are things
Which we perceive and not which we have made;
 — In which all beings live with god, themselves
Are god, existing in the mighty whole,
As undistinguishable as the cloudless East
At noon is from the cloudless West, when all
The hemisphere is one cerulean blue.

I hope the connection with the practice of mindfulness is clear. Mindfulness is a way of living in which one is aware – and aware of being aware – of the action of the present moment … from one moment to the next. If we remain choicelessly aware of that action, and resist the temptation to make constant judgments, we begin to live mindfully as opposed to mindlessly. If we can simply watch and observe, and acknowledge what is, turmoil and conflict dissipate. Maybe that sounds too good to be true, but it’s not. Is there any disputation where there is acceptance of what is? It is simply impossible.

Now, in order to live mindfully it is unnecessary to embrace Wordsworth’s pantheism – note his words, ‘In which all being live with god, themselves/ Are god, existing in the mighty whole,’ in what for Wordsworth appears to be a giant undifferentiated reality. As for me, I am simply content to see all things as being part of life’s Self-expression. I refer to the word ‘Self’ with a capital ‘S’ because I want to draw attention to what I see as the inherent sacredness or holiness of all life – such sacredness or holiness subsisting or manifesting itself in the ‘natural’ and ‘everyday’ as opposed to the supposedly ‘supernatural’. I also use the word ‘Self’ in this context in its more mystical sense and in distinct contradistinction to that illusory ego-self which we mistakenly believe is the person each of us truly is.

It’s not hard to find poems and other writings from Eastern traditions on the nature of mindfulness and the illusory ‘self.’ However, it may come as a surprise to some that there are a number of poems from the great poets of English literature which reveal that their authors understood that being fully present and engaged in the action of the present moment, from one moment to the next, is the only way to dis-identify from those ephemeral ‘forms and images/ Which float along our minds’ with which we mindlessly identify and which we allow to have so much power over us – ordinarily to the detriment of or happiness, peace of mind and emotional equanimity.

As a sidelight, so many of Wordsworth's poems capture the spirit of perceiving life as it unfolds or happens in the moment ... fully and unconditionally. 'The Daffodils' is one poem which immediately comes to mind. Note the directness and immediacy of the experience of awareness and observation in these oft-quoted lines: ‘When all at once I saw a crowd,/ A host, of golden daffodils;/ Beside the lake, beneath the trees,/ Fluttering and dancing in the breeze …Ten thousand saw I at a glance,/ Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.’ Then there's ‘The Sun Has Long Been Set’ where the directness and immediacy of the experience of moment-to-moment awareness and observation is  almost racy: ‘The sun has long been set,/ The stars are out by twos and threes,/ The little birds are piping yet/ Among the bushes and trees;/ There's a cuckoo, and one or two thrushes,/ And a far-off wind that rushes,/ And a sound of water that gushes,/ And the cuckoo's sovereign cry/ Fills all the hollow of the sky.’

Egotist or not – who can really say – the man who wrote those immortal oft-quoted lines, ‘trailing clouds of glory do we come/ From God, who is our home,’ clearly understood the importance of recognising that each of us is a ‘person among persons’ – part of a ‘mighty whole’ of which we can be mindfully aware as constituting our true being.



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