Mindfulness in Life
One of the discussion lists I’m on is the Forge Guild, and one of the members wondered if trying to be mindful in life is practical, can it happen for more than moments. The question wasn’t specifically addressed to me, but I posted the following as a partial answer, and thought it would be of interest here on this blog. Mindfulness is very much on my mind, as it were, having just returned from a week of Tibetan Buddhist teachings, where meditation and a kind of mindfulness beyond formal meditation is greatly valued. So…
Using the methods developed by G. I. Gurdjieff in his experiments with developing mindfulness techniques that worked for Westerners, I spent a lot of time living in the present years ago. In a supportive environment, like other people working at it, I could spend much of my day very much anchored in the present. Working on my own I could do it pretty well too, but it took more effort. Nowadays I don’t focus on it anywhere near as much, except when I teach this in my Basic Mindfulness class at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, where I try to stay anchored in the present for the whole 2 hours of class. I often get intellectually excited by something we’re talking about and lose touch with the present, of course – and I’m very pleased when my students start to catch me when I do this, and feel mindful enough and secure enough to tell me to come back to the present! 😉
While I don’t formally try to be present and mindful all that much in everyday life anymore, I usually remember to do so when situations get sticky, and I feel there’s been an overall shift in my level of consciousness/being from that earlier work, such that while I wouldn’t describe myself as “awake” I could accurately say I’m not as deeply asleep, lost in consensus consciousness and my own story, as I used to be.
Oh, Gurdjieff’s approach differs from classical mindfulness meditation techniques in that it’s mainly about developing mindfulness in everyday life, rather than in special environments. Few of us have every done anything really stupid while sitting quietly on a little black cushion, but our mindlessness in everyday life has sure gotten us in trouble!
You can get the flavor of Gurdjieff’s methods from my blog, where I’m slowly posting a transcript of my mindfulness course (http://blog.paradigm-sys.com/), and or from my three books on mindfulness training (“Waking Up,” or “Living the Mindful Life,” or “Mind Science: Mindfulness Training for Practical People.”
A final word. We have to be very careful about using mindfulness techniques as a way of avoiding reality. To be mindful is to be curious about what is actually happening, inside and outside at the moment, and to be courageous in looking at it. Given our human condition, that means that while it’s often satisfying and joyful to be more mindful, real mindfulness also makes us more acutely aware of our own and others’ suffering. If you try to turn mindfulness exercises into ways to feel good no matter what, that’s exactly the kind of living in illusion, samsara, maya, that the Eastern spiritual systems say is at the root of suffering to being with. I know mindfulness practice can be twisted this way – I’ve done it a lot of times!
Learning to become more mindful is a great way to go, and, I believe, fully compatible with the essence of real spirituality.