I had heard references to a “mindful” state of being, but 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. A detailed research recently has 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.
But what does all this mean?
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 which forced me to ponder on the 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.
The economy of attachments is also substantial, our attachments in and to the world take up psychic energy. Both positive attached – striving for, love for, aspirations, desires, as well as negative attachments – our aversions to, avoidance of, dislikes etc – are resource intensive. This includes attachments to certain kinds of thoughts – thoughts of love, of hate, of desires, of aversions – that are rooted in our current lives. These are a drain on our psychic resources. Other thoughts – like our past, past hurts or betrayals – these are like deadweight that weighs us down. Our relationship with our thoughts is very strong. But in order to function effectively in life, we must keep these thoughts submerged, or 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, the more energy it will consume if it is to remain “out of conscious mind” and allow us to function efficiently. 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. This energy remains unavailable for other tasks.
In the same way, we desperately try to get away from certain existential feelings. We never think of existential isolation, death, of who we are, our purpose in life, and if we are fulfilling that purpose. 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. These feelings are natural in human beings. They exist deep down inside. To keep these feelings from overwhelming our psyche requires energy. 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 these everyday memories is huge. All that we take in through our eyes, earns, noses etc on a daily basis, minute by minute, 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 each of these memories repressed, the total amount of repressed memories requires a huge investment of energy.
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.
There are many many, many, many more resource-intensive processes that are part and parcel of our existence. Most of the available energy is taken up in maintaining these primarily unconscious processes of repression and existing.
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”. Therefore, the spectrum of conscious processes is extremely limited.
Nature offers unlimited stimulation. It is infinite in variety, and abundant in its offerings. It is only the limitations of human paraphernalia – the limitations of our sensing-feeling equipment that limits our experiences. But that limitation of our senses is further limited by the limitation of the energies that are associated, and available, to us. The five senses cannot experience life to their fullest because of the overwhelming demand of the unconscious mind.
The limitations on the energy available us for conscious living, inhibit the senses and prevent us from experiencing life fully. Therefore, our minds can only experience a fraction of the spectrum of the real world at any given time. It is akin to driving around in rain and snow, with your car batteries depleted by the awful road conditions of snow, hail, rain, frost and fog. The car 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. It is better to drive without these “distractions”.
In terms of the body too, it is better to drive without the distractions. 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 attachments, our addictions to the chatter. You may be surprised to hear this, but human beings like to think. Any lack of mind-chatter constitutes “boredom”. However, only if we cease to expend our resources on this chatter, can this energy associated with the management of chatter, 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. This energy can then be used to experience life more fully, and completely.
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, there’s more…………….
………mindfulness is a consequence, not the cause. It is a consequence of a courageous act – the courage to accept “boredom”. Can you remain thoughtless without feeling bored? Without getting anxious? Without remembering that you have to complete a million chores and that you’re wasting time? Mindfulness is the gift of the self, the property of the atman, the soul. Can your egotistic mind accept the intrusion of the self? Can you allow the Self to emerge? Bear in mind, the emergence of the Self is an emergence of nothingness, a void. The emergence that negates all relationships except your relationship with Prakriti, the Universe, or – in layman’s terms – the nature. This lets loose the repressed existential isolation. So can you accept that you are alone in the world? That you do not really matter? That this body will ultimately die and decay? That nothing is certain, or permanent, not even the illusionary world that you have careved around yourself ? Can you accept the burdens such a revelation imposes? If you can, you’re free to be mindful. Until then, the Self cannot be felt, and all efforts at true mindfulness will be futile.
Mindfulness is a journey, a consequence of experiencing freedom, freedom from anything attached to this world. 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 just like a child cannot learn to be an adult. – adulthood is the outcome of our developmental process. It is a journey. It is an experience.
The absence of chatter in the mind does not guarantee mindfulness. On the contrary, mindfulness requires access to thoughts, images, experiences. – the right kind of thoughts, memories, and images from the psyche. One needn’t dwell on those experience, but to be fully mindful, one must have experiential access to 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 enhanced with appropriate lifestyle choices – food, sleep habits, lifestyle choices that are associated with energy states. When mindfulness begins to unfold, you will automatically crave certain kind of food, sleep patterns begin to change, because the unfolding requires energy, and the mind automatically gets drawn to certain kinds of food to fuel that energy – such knowledge being intuitive. 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.
So a random guru, or a random book on mindfulness cannot really make you mindful. It is an unfolding process. My sporadic experiences of mindfulness can explain what I mean.
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 really not so short. Like the Tardis, the moment is small on the outside and big, very very big and magical on the inside. Any 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, if we allow it, our experience of a sip of tea can be infinite. 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.
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.
I taste the tea. I experience its qualities, the hotness, the flavor, the fragrance, the wetness, how it presents in my mouth, and how it is savored, and swirled and swallowed. have you ever actually experienced the tea in your mouth? The experience is infinite in its physicality.
But there is more than the tea itself.
There is “stuff” associated 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 an eternity to see, live and explain, and several hundred pages of prose to write. A conglomerate of images arises – of the tea gardens of India and Ceylon, greener than the green, the beauty, and perfection of tea estates, 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, the poverty, and exploitation of the workers.
Along with the physicality, an infinite weight – 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 all this 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. The world does not exist at that moment.
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. The mind is incapable. These moments are the gifts of the self, the atman, the soul, as it strives to express itself. These moments are sheer,unparalleled bliss, they are poetry. Only a relaxed, reflective mind can achieve these states.
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 Self. 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. I become one with tea. The observer, and the observed are intermingled.
The ability to live in the moment – mindfulness – demands that we be able to condense all of ourselves into the smallest frame of time – also called this moment – and experience that tiny frame of time to its fullest. By such activity, we bypass the brain, the mind, and the illusionary world that exists around us. And just for that moment, we experience the Ultimate Truth.
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. Our brains – the ego – drives us, not the pure, unadulterated self.
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.
This weblog is dedicate to all those on this path –
With Metta to All