Monday, July 29, 2013
THE ESSENCE OF MINDFULNESS---WATCH, WAKE UP, WAIT!
The essence of the practice of mindfulness is this---staying awake. The essence of Buddhism is this---waking up. Other religions may use those or similar words to describe this very same phenomenon, for there is a universality about truth. At the risk of stating the obvious, we could not speak of anything being the truth if it were otherwise.
The Bible has a lot to say about mindfulness, even though for the most part other words and expressions are used to describe the practice—for example, words such as watchfulness and wakefulness. There are many verses in the Bible that speak of watchfulness. Here is one such verse: ‘I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me’ (Hab 2:1). When you are mindfully present and attentive to the action---both internal and external---of the present moment, from one such moment to the next, you are standing upon your watch. Here are some more Bible verses on watchfulness: ‘Watch thou in all things’ (2 Tim 4:5); ‘Be watchful’ (Rev 3:2); ‘watch in the watchtower’ (Is 21:5). There are numerous other such verses, and almost as many verses on the similar idea of wakefulness. ‘Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem’ (Is 51:7). ‘Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead’ (Eph 5:14). (Note. All this is metaphorical, figurative, and symbolical language. That is the nature of all sacred scripture.)
Now, I would be misleading you if I did not tell you that many of the Bible verses on watchfulness and wakefulness refer not so much to mindfulness as that term is understood in the psychological sciences as well as in Buddhism but more to a preparedness and alertness so as to guard against sin and temptation [see eg Mt 26:41] as well as (in the context of the New Testament) an expectant waiting and preparedness for the second coming of Jesus [see eg Lk 12:36, 37]. However, Biblical watchfulness and wakefulness still involve many of the same traits and qualities that characterize mindfulness---traits and qualities such as vigilance, alertness, attention, detachment from worldly things, perseverance, heedfulness, and sobriety, together with an ongoing awareness of one’s environment as it continuously unfolds. I have read in Bible commentaries that watchfulness and prayer are inextricably united. When the Bible says to pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17), the Bible is referring to a special type of praying---one that is more in the nature of mindfulness, the latter being the presence of an active, watchful mind.
Whatever the spiritual tradition, mindfulness, watchfulness, and wakefulness, are not a matter of waiting for the future or for the occurrence of some future expected event nor are they a matter of passing time or, heaven forbid, killing time. No, we are talking about the practice of a vigilant alertness to the ever-changing action of the present moment. This is the true, inner meaning of Bible verses such as these: ‘On thee do I wait all the day’ (Ps 25:5); ‘Wait on the Lord’ (Ps 27:14); ‘I waited patiently for the Lord’ (Ps 40:1). Waiting, like the concepts of watchfulness and wakefulness, is a Biblical form of mindfulness.
Here’s another wonderful Bible verse, a real favourite of mine: ‘Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint’ (Is 40:31). God is life---the very Spirit of Life---and that life is your life, and my life---right now! When you pay ‘bare’ attention to, and are choicelessly aware of, the action of the present moment, from one such moment to the next, whilst inhaling and exhaling air ([Greek] pneuma, air, and also 'spirit'), you can be said to be waiting on the Lord. In metaphysics the expression ‘the Lord’ often refers to one’s own experience and understanding of the moment-to-moment activity of the I AM-ness or be-ing-ness of life, the one power and presence of life, individualized in you and as the very ground of your being and life experience as well as your ‘ruling’ consciousness. 'The Lord' for you is not necessarily 'the Lord' for me, and both 'Lords' may signify something falling far short of the fulness of the Divine. (The words ‘the Lord God’ have a slightly different meaning, but that’s for another day.)
So, when you ‘wait on the Lord’ by remembering to be awake, and stay awake, to whatever is unfolding as your life experience, you will renew your strength. Not only that, you will mount up with wings like eagles, you shall run and not be weary, and you shall walk and not faint. Notice the successive actions so beautifully described in that verse from the Book of Isaiah: flying, then running, and then walking. Yes, even as your energy diminishes, you can keep on going. Now, all that is metaphorical language, but I think you get the point. When you live and act mindfully, you will experience a constant refreshing and re-invigoration. Each moment is a renewal and resurrection experience. You die each moment, to be resurrected into newness of life the very next moment. What a wonderful way to live!
Awake, awake. Pray without ceasing. Stand upon your watch. Wait on the Lord. Practise mindfulness---and arise from the dead. Angels can do no better.