Thursday, March 16, 2017

Avoiding Mindlessness

"New Every Morning"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

Nowadays there is an awful lot of talk about the importance of “mindfulness.” For the most part, mindfulness is associated with the practice of meditation – a technique for taking time to relax and quiet the mind, enhancing awareness of the present moment. While mindfulness is typically viewed as a spiritual practice, more and more today the practice of establishing a daily period of mindful mediation is being employed in schools, hospitals, and in major corporations as a means for helping people to reduce stress and be more focused in the workplace or the classroom.

A few days ago I came across an article in the New York Times that shed a whole new light on the meaning of mindfulness by offering the following definition of mindlessness (the opposite of mindfulness):

When we’re mindless, the past is riding herd over the present.
We get trapped in categories created in the past,
stuck in rigid perspectives,
oblivious to alternative views.
This gives us the illusion of certainty.

Mindfulness is far more than a relaxed state achieved through concentrated meditation. We are, in fact, mindful by avoiding mindlessness  

When we are able to suspend our rigid perspectives so carefully constructed over the years, when we are able to and strip away the categories that keep us trapped within our own view of the world and embrace what comes along in our everyday lives with fresh, new eyes, we are practicing mindfulness by avoiding mindlessness.

It seems to me that this understanding of “mindfulness" has enormous implications for how we view might view race or gender or religion, it has enormous implications for how we might understand our own self images and in fact, it even has wide-ranging implications for how we might understand “God.”

I have come to realize that, over the past few years, I haven’t necessarily devoted myself
to  meditating every day but I have committed myself to the practice of  “avoiding  mindlessness,” and this practice has been especially helpful on my own particular spiritual journey. 

For example, when I find myself reading old familiar passages of scripture I tell myself,  “I am not really sure I know what this means” and then I treat the  passage as if I was reading it for the first time.  When I do this I suddenly find all sorts of refreshing new insights. I do the same thing when I think about “God,” I have come to the point where I say, “I cant possibly know who "God” is or what “God” is all about because “God” is a “Great Mystery.” When I do this I discover that I am freed from the old categories that had trapped me in the past and strangely enough I then come to understand “God” far better than I ever did before.

I am reminded of a Zen teaching:

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities
but in the expert’s mind there are few.

In some ways this little saying almost perfectly describes what “mindfulness” is all about. The practice of mindfulness is a practice of avoiding mindlessness, a process of cultivating  a “beginner’s mind.” In fact, as I see it, the the goal of every path of wisdom is to develop a “beginner’s mind” by treating each new day as if we were seeing the world for the very first time.

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