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.


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2 comments:

  1. I love this! I'm a Messianic Jew who always compares things to the Word of Yahweh. I'm training to be a doula right now, and a huge part of my training is helping the mother cope with the fear and anxiety that comes with childbirth. The practices of mindfulness, breath awareness and non-focused awareness of the senses are the best ways for a laboring mother to control her fearful thoughts. Being in the present is a good practice during labor, because if you think about the time too much and how much time you coud have left, can causes fear and suffering to enter the mind. This is true for all aspects in life. I'm dealing with some Christian friends who are judging me for learning these practices because they "come from Buddhism". I don't think these same friends realize or understand what the Bible says about being mindful and alert. "Be still and know that I am God", isn't that one in Psamls? Do you have any recommendations of books I can read to further my wisdom on Biblical mindfulness and the world's practices on mindfulness? Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thank you for your very kind words. I get so few comments on my posts that when comes like yours I get immense joy out of hearing a positive response. Although hundreds and hundreds of people read my posts each day, few leave a comment, and the ‘comments’ I do receive are almost invariably non-comments in the form of spam—people trying to advertise their products on my blog, free of charge, under the guise of some silly, usually inappropriate words totally unrelated to what the particular post is about.

      You asked for the titles of some books I think may be useful to you. Here are a few. Living the Life of Jewish Meditation: A Comprehensive Guide to Practice and Experience (by Rabbi Yoel Glick), Mindful Jewish Living: Compassionate Practice (by Jonathan P Slater), Mindfulness and Christian Spirituality: Making Space for God (Tim Stead), and Christian Insight Meditation: Following in the Footsteps of John of the Cross (Mary Jo Meadow, ed) are excellent books on the practice of mindfulness in the Jewish and Christian perspectives respectively.

      The authors of the books mentioned above are sensible people who realise that mindfulness is NOT inherently Buddhist and that the experience and practice of mindfulness is an inherently human experience that is not restricted to any one religious or spiritual tradition. Indeed, mindfulness transcends religion, spirituality, nationality, ethnicity and all other human-made constructs. Even if mindfulness were Buddhist, I would still say this, namely, that Buddhist in its most traditional form, and in many forms and manifestations to this day, is not a religion but a form of mental cultivation. As such, it is neutral when it comes to things religious and can be practised alongside other religious or spiritual traditions. Unfortunately, conservative evangelical Christians can be both narrow-minded and ignorant of so many things.

      Now, having said that, here is a book which, in my humble view, is the best book ever written on mindfulness from a traditional Theravada perspective, namely, The Heart of Buddhist Meditation (by Nyanaponika Thera). Any books by him, as well as by Thich Nhat Hanh are of good value.

      Thank you once again for your very kind words, and may the One who gives us life bless you immensely. Shalom. Ian.

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