SOME REFLECTIONS ON MY — Living the Mindful Life. Boston: Shambhala, 1994.
Three of my books are those I never expected to write. Who am I that I have the nerve to write about matters talked of in spiritual development circles? But the three books are probably my most valuable sharings for individuals who want to become more awake and mindful in life. In a sense, they are about the same topic, (a) how mindless we can be in ordinary life, (b) the useless and unnecessary suffering resulting from such mindlessness, and (c) basic practical procedures for becoming more awake. I’ve often had to have something explained to me from several different perspectives and emphases before it got clear to me, thus these three books (and workshops I have done over the years teaching mindfulness, although I am largely retired from doing these, except for one ongoing webinar occasionally offered by GlideWing.com.
While I believe I have been quite clear conceptually on the nature of mindlessness and mindfulness, it is the application of mindfulness practices in life (not just special “meditation” times) that can make a difference to people. Without the application, it’s just interesting, maybe something to do later…
My Waking Up book was the first of the three. Not long after my study, reported in Learning to Use ESP, that suggested that immediate feedback training of initially talented people could produce strong and reliable ESP, I wanted to be able to continue that work, but needed funding to expand the scope of the research. I was at a meeting of the Board of the Institute of Noetic Sciences to report on some research, and hoped IONS might be able to provide some support. It turned out that none of the Board members were particularly interested in that, but one, Henry Rolfs, had been very interested in the spiritual and psychological development system, a Fourth Way, transmitted and created by G. I. Gurdjieff early in the 20th century. Gurdjieff put his knowledge together in a form that he thought would work well for Westerners then, but he claimed to be presenting much older material from a secret spiritual brotherhood. We won’t go in that direction, though, as its truth or falsity is romance to me, rather than something you can prove or disprove. But the psychological material has been of great value to me as I’ve tested it in my life, it can produce useful results, that’s good enough for me.
I had done work with various groups set up to pass on Gurdjieff’s ideas and methods. They actually worked well for me at times, although I am far from any goal of “waking up.” I was also very interested in writing such a book because a lot of Gurdjieff’s ideas seemed to fit with modern psychological findings. Henry Rolfs felt that way too, and wished someone would write a book about them. He asked me if I might be interested in writing that book, and as I thought about it, yes. So with his support, through IONS, I was able to take a year off from my university teaching and concentrate on formulating what I understood about Gurdjieff’s system in modern terms.
Qualification: I should note that there are many aspects of Gurdjieff’s ideas, his cosmology for example, that I have no idea whether they are brilliant insights into reality or crude theories that bear little relation to reality. These are ideas that I saw no way of testing, so I just took them as part of the background and focused on the psychological techniques that I could apply and test in my life, and other people could apply and test, and found that they did indeed produce useful results. No “enlightenment,” whatever enlightenment is (I think about that a lot), but being even 10% more present and aware in life, more mindful, can be both satisfying and useful.
Waking Up was my first book on training people toward greater mindfulness, both the theoretical background for it and practical techniques. I emphasize, as did Gurdjieff, mindfulness in the midst of everyday life, not a monastic retreat from life. Two other books of mine, written later, Living the Mindful Life, and Mind Science: Meditation Training for Practical People are also working with the same basic theme. Living the Mindful Life grew out of a workshop I gave for some students of Tibetan Buddhism, as presented by Sogyal Rinpoche back in the 70s, so my perspective in this book was sharing ideas and methods with people who had a serious, Buddhist or Buddhist-like spiritual commitment. Some years later I had done a number of workshops with different kinds of groups and wanted to share ideas and methods more widely with people interested in meditation, not specifically Tibetan Buddhism, thus Mind Science: Meditation Training for Practical People. This emphasizes that these mindfulness methods are for people who are heavily involved in ordinary life and need to be practical.
People often ask me which is my best introduction to Gurdjieff’s work – or, more accurately, my modern psychological perspective on mindfulness, inspired by Gurdjieff and Buddhism and psychological research on altered states – and I have to honestly say I don’t know. In one sense all three books cover the same territory, but take different slants on things each time. I would recommend any or all of them if you’re interested in becoming more mindful, which is not only practically helpful, but should be useful as part of most serious spiritual paths.
Note: I have included links, usually to Amazon for convenience, as it leads to more formal information and reviews by readers. Most of my books are in print in some form, some may have to be found used.