already mindful


There was no epiphany, no eureka moment, there was no enlightenment,  there was just this teacher, dad, partner, who was feeling this sense of 'things' emerging; probably out of weariness with the autonomic toll, the irascibility, the distractibility, the caught-up-ness, the addictive tendencies, the shouting at my kids, the shouting at other people’s kids, the shouting at the parents of other people’s kids, the passive aggression, the muttering at drivers on a particular stretch of road in a small patch of a county in a small country that was already in the throes of losing its collective mind.

There was rumination too - yammering, yelping, yapping rumination - until it got to the point where I had to ask: who the hell are you talking to anyhow? Thankfully, science offered some consoling evidence. For instance, the 'voice'? Turns out the voice has been around as a default mode for a squillion years. The 'voice' isn't 'you', per se. It's brain evolution. It's what it is. You're not really you. You just think you're you. Can you get your head around that? Just getting to know this is a good place to start being already mindful. Being who you already are. Plus, knowing it's got something to do with design helps dispel the myth that being mindful is some religious thing, some process of emptying the mind, some way of chilling out. It’s actually more mundane than that: it’s just common sense. Although common sense - as a wit once put it - is not so common. 

Mindfulness riffs on common sense themes. Here's one, the voice you have is nothing more than a self-referential iteration of ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘mine’ but you can tame its impetuousness, its scowling, its sabotaging. It's often called your 'puppy dog' mind because it sniffs out almost anything and brings stuff back to you you really don't want. So you've got to train it to sit - although you’ll have to accept that you'll fail - time and time again - to do so. However, instead of getting desperate or frustrated, you can learn to cultivate some curiosity about your perceived sense of failure to control its waywardness. You'll also learn to practice something known as 'beginner's mind', 'acceptance', and 'compassion'. You'll be told that this is simple to do. But then you'll find that it’s precisely its simplicity that makes it so hard. 

Knowing that you're already mindful life is also - whisper it gently - slightly Jedi-like. This appeals to the hero in me. It will appeal to the hero in you too. 

Then there's the piece called meditation. Here's a quote I like - “Enlightenment is an accident—but meditation makes us accident-prone.” Maybe meditation is enlightenment boot camp. It's certainly 'reps' for the mind; a kind of training ground for responding rather than reacting; which maybe what enlightenment is all about. Did you want enlightenment to be something more? Either way, meditation is possibly the key. Mind you, it's what I particularly struggle with: keeping up the practice, skipping the odd day here and there, convincing myself that a lie-in can double-up as a body scan. But it's best not to give yourself a hard time about it. Just begin again. And again, and again, and again. Or, as I heard a teacher say, just sit until you can't sit anymore, then sit for one more breath. Mind you, maybe it's more than meditation. Maybe it's about now. Maybe you're meditating now? Maybe you don't need to sit on a stool. Let's explore that too. 

Of course, you could go for the cognitive approach by acquiring a bunch of heuristics to bail you out. But that’s hard work. Not only that, but it’s also cognitive overload. It’s probably better to start with what your body is telling you. Ah, yes. The body. Remember the body? The piece of kit you’re attached to? You woke up with it this morning. Then promptly forgot all about it. Being already mindful is about reminding that there’s a lot of wisdom in this guest house of yours. A lot of embedded poetry. The problem is, as the oft-quoted Joyce phrase reminds us, we live a short distance from our bodies. Then we shoot off down some conceptual highway... thinking this, thinking that ... until our thoughts think us. But it’s the body that will help you navigate the slipperiness of attention you’re experiencing now, as you attempt to stay focused on reading these words. In fact, the body is where the work starts. If you practice detecting its signals you get to move toward an embodied sense of the attitudes of mindfulness: attitudes that distinguish mindfulness from other states of conscious awareness, such as flow states. For sure, flow states are profound but they don’t operate under conditions of kindness, curiosity, and compassion: just ask a serial killer, or any of the nefarious operatives employed by Mohammad bin Salman. I’m sure those guys experienced profound flow states - sinewy flow states - but they hardly made the world a better place. And that’s the ultimate thing about mindfulness: the way it dismantles the ego through its cumulative cultivation of compassion towards yourself and others. Its inwardness means nothing unless it leads you toward a willingness to be outward. Its 'metta', or loving-kindness, really does have the potential to make the world a better place. And that’s not fluffy. It could well be that compassion is part of our design. It’s just that we’re neglecting it, or we've forgotten about it. It could be we’ve lost some essential part of our better selves. But it’s eminently salvageable. Knowing that you're already mindful will help you remember this. Remember your basic goodness. It will help you remember this too: a better world can start with you and the basic goodness within you. Basic goodness that is already mindful. 

Isn’t it good to think that you are - right here, right now, in this present moment - already mindful?

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