Several years ago, I wrote a thesis on Vipassana Meditation as a part of my MSW education. During that period, I happened to come across the term Mindfulness, as it is commercially used. Prior to that, I had heard references to such a state of being, but a detailed research really amazed me into how lucrative this industry has grown, along with the Yoga Industry, and the Meditation Industry, and perhaps even the Kundalini industry. The word Tantra, of course, is used by every prostitute one happens to meet, or read about.
The word Mindfulness has been bastardized and abused by everyone, simply everyone, simply because it is intangible. At the very least, Yoga requires a mastery of acrobatics. A person claiming to be called a Yoga teacher has to make some level of effort. Meditation requires the ability to sit still for long periods of time, and the meditation instructor has to first acquire that skill at the very least, but mindfulness? It is a mind oriented phenomenon. There are no witnesses who can ascertain the veracity of anyone’s claims of mindfulness, and therefore every Tom, Dick and Harry can ascertain mastery over mindfulness. Hence there are several so called “gurus” and academicians who throw in the word Mindfulness into the repertoire of their purported skills, to rake in dollars by seeking grants, writing books, articles about it, giving lectures, and conducting classes. No one can understand the rampant fakeness of their claims, because few end up experiencing real mindfulness. What one doesn’t know, one cannot pass a judgment on.
For over twelve years since I first got familiar with the term, I too was fooled by dozens of Mindfulness gurus. I bought and read several dozen books, I turned my psyche into a pretzel trying to be “mindful” the way all these gurus suggested, I patted myself on the back, congratulating myself on my purported “mindfulness.” Life was good. I was part of the new age group. Mindfulness, the buzzword, belonged to me, and I belonged to it.
…..until one day….not long ago….a series of events triggered an involuntary inherent transformation from within me. At first there were imperceptible changes in my sleeping patterns. Slowly but decisively everything about my life began to change -the way I interacted with others, the way I dressed, cooked, my daily living habits, and even my food habits. I became like a pregnant woman, with cravings for a certain kind of life. I craved all kinds of foods that I had not imagined myself to be capable of. Everything acquired a kind of hue, taste, color that had previously been missing. It was a gradual process, unfolding over a period of six months or more, and I was forced to ponder on the causation. This weblog is dedicated to one of those changes. I began experiencing sporadic flashes of absolute mindfulness. It is then that I understood, from experience, what mindfulness really was. I had been living in a world of delusions before. I am not mindful most of the time even now. But occasionally there are flashes of mindfulness that leave me astounded and grateful.
Without much ado – what is this real experience of mindfulness then? This so called – living in the moment experience? A little background may help.
Our bodies are controlled by our minds. How our minds control our bodies, is dependent on how much total energy is available to us, and how in turn that total available energy is distributed between functions that the mind performs.
Take an example of a computer. If one opens dozens of tabs in a computer, and attempts to run that computer for several days, eventually the computer will slow down and will need to be rebooted. The process of rebooting involves closing all the existing applications and processes, including the closing down of dead end processes, rogue processes that are a drain on the memory, cache, and the hard-drive. Rebooting also clears the cache and resets many other things.
Just like a computer, each of us is given a certain amount of energy which is available for us to live. That energy is distributed over the functions that our body needs to perform.
Much like a pc that is never shut down, our minds are engaged in constant thought processes. These thought processes may be organized – like when we are problem solving or contemplating a particular situation or issue – or they may be randomized thoughts, like when we are not engaged in creating or generating a meaningful thought our minds are drifting around from thought to thought – as during driving. Both these kinds of thoughts are fueled by the “energy” of our mind.
In addition to these, the energy of the mind is also used up in maintaining repressions. In other words, at any given time, you want to think only what you want to think about. We need a clear space in the mind that allows us to live and move forward – much like cache. A cluttered cache would make computer operations impossible. Similarly, for us to function at all, all thoughts must be repressed so current situation may be processed.
Maintenance of attachments takes up energy. Positive or negative attachments. We are attached to certain kinds of thoughts – of love, of relationships. Other thoughts – like past hurts or betrayals. Our relationship with these thoughts is very strong. they demand a greater portion of energy from our minds if they are to remain in the background. They matter to us in many ways because we are, or have been affected by certain acts in the past. Our lives are a consequence of that past. So we hold onto these thoughts and images, refusing to let go. It is not the thought itself, but the maintenance of our attachment to these kind of thoughts that exhausts our energy resources. The stronger the attachment, the more potent the thought, and the more energy it takes up. Kinda like your Lombargini or your Bentley would be a larger drain on your financial resources than your ordinary bicycle would be. You may ignore and give up your broken bicycle after an accident, or when need arises, but you will fight tooth and nail if you have to give up your expensive car, or house, or jewellery. You are more attached to these items of luxury. The loves, possessions, attachments, hate, anger, slights, hurts, betrayals from the past are unfortunately like prized possessions that one desperately clings to. These attachments are resource intensive.
In the same way, we desperately try to get away from certain existential feelings. To keep these feelings from overwhelming our psyche requires energy. We each know we are alone in this world, and that we have to die. But we surround ourselves with “friends” and behave as if we were immortal. This aversion towards accepting the realities of life is also resource intensive. The mind has to ensure that these unpleasant thoughts are kept away from consciousness. The effort to keep repressed these existential fears exhausts the scarce energy resources of the mind.
Other thoughts – like memories from everyday life – are less potent, and they require very little energy to be pushed into the background. However, the volume of thoughts that require less energy, is huge. Our everyday memories, all that we take in through our eyes, earns, noses etc on a daily basis – all that is stored up and available, but we generally don’t need it. So the volume of such data stored in our mind is quite alarmingly huge, even if very little energy is needed to keep it repressed.
Other processes that run in the background are automatic processes – like breathing, functions of our internal organs, reflexive actions, housekeeping functions over which we have no control. These require substantial amounts of energy as well.
Whatever is left after all this energy is distributed to maintain our unconscious processes, is made available to maintain consciousness and the currency of life. That little residual energy of the mind is distributed across various conscious processes which we can “feel” and “experience”.
Often, that limited amount of energy is insufficient to allow the senses to experience life fully. Therefore, our minds can only experience a certain spectrum of the real world at any given time. It is akin to driving around in rain and snow, with your cars batteries depleted by the requirements of the engine and heater – which must be first met before the requirement for light can be addressed. Very small amount energy will be available to maintain the lights. That light will be insufficient to penetrate the fog. You can see only a few feet ahead. You would not be able to see the overall beauty of your surroundings. If one is to drive in such a fog, one needs a new car that can house a more powerful battery or one needs to choose to drive in areas, and during the time of the day when the weather is less foggy with low or zero heating. If we are able to achieve that, we will be able to see clearly ahead, and the light from the car will illuminate the road beautifully.
In terms of the body, one needs better fuel to energize the brain, and one needs to get rid of the endless stream of mindless thoughts – chatter – that arise from and as a consequence of these repressed memories. To give up the chatter one needs to give up one’s attachment to the chatter. We often don’t know it, but we are addicted to this chatter. We like to think, any lack of mind-chatter makes us feel “bored”. However, only if we cease to expend our resources on this chatter, can this energy associated in keeping the chatter up, become available. When we renounce this addiction to chatter, and to our past, this energy – used up in maintaining such repressions, addictions and chatter, becomes available for other purposes.
But any Mindfulness guru can tell you this. I have constantly read this in several dozen, or several hundred books. I myself have repeated this before, because this is the principle behind psychodynamic psychotherapy as well. By making conscious the repressed unconscious, psychodynamic psychotherapy leads to release of the energy consumed in repressions. This energy can be utilized in living life fully. So how is this weblog different? Firstly, I am not a guru. I don’t intend to drain your (or someone else’s) bank account when I give you this piece of information. Secondly, this was just an introduction, there’s more to come.
Mindfulness cannot be imposed. It cannot be learnt. It is not an outside-in but an inside-out phenomenon. Your mind calls the shots – your mind decides to release the energy allocation. You cannot do a thing about it. So learning to be mindful or teaching mindfulness to others, is only an attempt towards delusion. You may as well skip that class on mindfulness that you were planning to join, and sip a cup of coffee instead, because….
…mindfulness is a consequence not the cause. It is the consequence of awareness, of compassion, of certain kind of lifestyle choices where one overcomes addictive phenomenon of every kind in their life…etc etc etc. It is not the other way round. Mindfulness doesn’t cause anything, it is a state of mind.
So one cannot learn to be mindful any more than one can learn to be thoughtful because thoughtfulness is a consequence of knowledge, maturity, education and many other factors. Or like a child cannot attend special classes to become an adult – adulthood is the outcome of our developmental process. It is a journey.
To make it more tangible, I will also say that the absence of chatter in the mind does not guarantee mindfulness. On the contrary, mindfulness requires access to thoughts, the right kind of thoughts, memories, and images from the psyche. The experience of mindfulness is greatly enhanced by memories, images, thoughts that are linked to the experiences that are current. One needn’t dwell on those experience, but to be fully mindful, one must acknowledge their existence, and appreciate them.
Because Mindfulness is a consequence of energy release, therefore, a pre-requisite for mindfulness is ample energy resources within the human brain. Hence, mindfulness is generally associated with food habits, sleep habits and other habits that are associated with energy states. A change in food habits or a change in sleep patterns doesn’t necessarily lead to mindfulness. However, when mindfulness begins to unfold, you will automatically crave certain kind of food, because the unfolding requires energy, and the mind automatically gets drawn to certain kinds of food to fuel that energy – such knowledge being intuitive. It is the same with sleep – a certain quality of sleep begins to emerge, which is less resource intensive. Hence, my analogy of cravings of a pregnant woman.
A textbook definition of Mindfulness is: the ability to live life moment to moment. To be able to achieve complete awareness in the moment. To be able to fully comprehend and experience the truth of the moment that one currently lives in. It is said that during a mindful moment, there is nothing else, no past, no future, no other competing thought or experience to take away the fullness of the current moment. Complete mindfulness means that there is no repression….every ounce of your energy is available to you for utilization in that moment, and every experience from your past, is at your fingertip. In other words, full mindfulness occurs when all unconscious has become conscious. This is a very big achievement. Nirvana, and Moksha are defined the same way.
Now do you understand why every way side guru or any random book on mindfulness cannot really make you mindful?
Let me explain my sporadic experiences of mindfulness :
I am drinking tea. I hold the cup, and move it towards my mouth…..
…and I take a sip. this purportedly takes a fraction of a second…but, it represents a profound experience of the moment….
…I savor this experience of my encounter with the tea (and the teacup) in the moment. Nothing else exists – the world disappears – only the taste of tea on my lips, in my mouth. The hotness, the flavor, the sweet and sour pain on my lips, the coldness of the ceramic bowl, the feel of the liquid on the wetness of my tongue, the light breeze that drifts by my lips while I sip, and how it enters my mouth along with the liquid cooling the liquid somewhat. Because there is no chatter to compete with this experience, I can experience the various aspects of the tea, of my lips, and of the miscrocosm around my lips – things that I could not have noticed if I had other processes going on in my mind. It can only be likened to a feeling of drowning in a sea of sensations and flavors. Everything is much more potent than it would otherwise be.
But this is not where the awareness ends, because the moment of encounter – a fraction of a second – is rally not so short. I am reminded of Tardis – small on the outside and big on the inside. In the same way, lived time is small on the outside, and big on the inside. The living entity experiences the lived moment as being of infinite duration – our awareness of the moment is significantly much more than the duration of the short moment as it is measured by the clock.
So, what is experienced in that sip of tea, is infinitely more than just the physical aspects of the tea. The encounter encroaches my consciousness on all fronts – emotional, physical, psychical, metaphysical, psychological, religious, cultural, academics and so on. When I accept all that in the moment, it becomes a mindful state.
Along with the taste of the tea, the history and heritage of tea flashes before me – not sequentially, but in the form of a momentary intuition that would take several hundred pages of prose to explain. A conglomerate of images arises – of the tea gardens of India and Ceylon, greener than the color green, the beauty and perfection of the tea estates, and in turn the beauty and perfection of nature. Images associated with the cultures and traditions of the tea growers. Images of British oppression and loot associated with tea assault me, the poverty and exploitation of the workers – an infinite sadness fills my experience of the sip. Images of my childhood, my adolescent, my adulthood – happy moments associated with tea, sad moments associated with tea assail me. I watch and experience all these sail by like one would watch a movie – unperturbed, unattached, knowing that it is real, yet not real. A feeling of gratitude, plenitude, sorrow, compassion, abundance and joy is the part of that experience. I experience these, yet I don’t hold onto any of it, and allow all to drift by.
The real experience of the tea – in that moment of time – fills me completely. I see (images), taste (flavor), hear (sound), experience (consciousness), touch (in my mouth). I have engaged all my senses in the service of that sip of tea. No competing thought, feeling, or image exists.
I have attempted to describe the experience in words, but essentially, such experiences in their totality, are indescribable. And this happens in a flash – all of it. By the time my encounter with that single sip nears its end, I have experienced the taste of tea in totality. I am mindful of that sip of tea. Nothing else that exists in my psyche, relating to tea is left unexplored.
These mindful states are intuitive – they are inside out. I cannot compel my mind into doing this. It is only a relaxed, reflective mind that can achieve this for me.
Additionally, I can only experience in the sip, the images, experiences, virtues and qualities that I have accumulated within. In that sense, we’re a complete universe to ourselves. A closed system that cannot exceed our own developmental stages.
My compassion enables me to experience compassion as a quality of that sip. My innate knowledge imparts a certain “flavor” to that sip. My contemplative stance enables such living in the moment. These abilities and acts – compassion, knowledge, contemplation – in turn are a consequence of my lifestyle and of the choices I make. The “taste” of the tea varies with the properties of our own being. These experiences are unique to me. No one would taste tea quite the same way as I do.
What of this experience is mine, and what belongs to the tea, or the cup, or the environment becomes indistinguishable. These distinctions merge. The distinction is irrelevant anyway, all that matters is the essence of the moment – the experience of mindfulness.
The ability to live in the moment – mindfulness – demands that we be able to condense all of ourselves (ie our experiences) into the smallest frame of time – also called this moment – and experience that tiny frame of time to its fullest.
Thus one may be able to figuratively live a whole lifetime in a moment, without a thought from the past, without a thought about the future. When lived thus, each moment becomes fulfilling, and the next one doesn’t really matter, because the next one would also be a total experience of life lived fully. And our whole life thus becomes a concatenated series of moments that each are filled with indistingushable, indescribable mixture of abundance, joy, plenitude, gratitude and more. Each moment is full of knowlege, learning. Each moment and the constituents of that moment – the tea, the past, the present, the body, the environment – are acknowledged, and are prized.
Mindfulness, then, becomes a projection of my Self, and a consequence of my lifestyle choices. Mindfulness thus is the ability to engage all your senses into experiencing what presents itself to you in a particular moment.
In the absence of any of the above, the whole cup of tea would simply be mildly flavored hot water, with sugar thrown in, and we would gulp it down without any realization of its significance, or of ours. The tea itself, the moment, and the world at that moment, has limited value or no value at all. That is how most of our lives are lived – mindlessly, unappreciated, and unawares.
Because the experience of mindfulness is intense, it is therefore sporadic. I would either have to be totally self realised, a person who had attained Nirvana, or Moksha, and has developed the ability to handle such intense moment to moment living where all of my unconscious stuff – accumulated over many lifetimes, or at least accumulated over this lifetimes, is flashing before me every moment. Since I am not such a person, I would go mad if I could experience the world fully, and intuitively all the time. But these sporadic moments – that connect little things around you with all of yourself, are extremely prized anyway.
Mindfulness is a consequence, not the cause. To achieve mindfulness, one must make the right lifestyle choices. A life that is natural will lead to mindfulness – in my experience it cannot be the other way round.
This weblog is dedicate to all those on this path –
With Metta to All