Life can be upsetting, friends. Loved ones can hurt us. Families especially can trigger us like detonation experts (this is not surprising since they installed the triggers). We can have the most loving intentions, feel mindful and present, and in a flash, given just the right word or gesture, it can be all gone. We glimpse ourselves lashing out, acting twelve years old. Was it even real? Those we take as spiritual guides can hurt us too, demolishing our trust in a practice and in our own possibilities with a remark that reveals their own limitation.
Last Sunday, my friends and I spoke about the gift of learning to observe ourselves impartially. We spoke of using the constantly changing flow of sensory feeling in the body—keeping it simple, just knowing pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral in the body. Breaking our experience down in this way—sunlight, pleasant, shadow, unpleasant– can help us glimpse the flowing, changing nature of our experience. But turning our attention to the moment-by-moment experience of the life of body can accomplish something much greater. It can help free us from an obsessive identification with a small, embattled self. It can be the key to living a much bigger life—a good life in the deepest sense. For real.
“What I’m coming to lately is an end of life conviction that there is more to consciousness than what is produced in my little head, or yours,” says James George in a heart-opening interview in the Winter 2014 “Goodness” issue of Parabola. The 96-year-old former Canadian diplomat and spiritual elder explains that we can become whole—as individual beings and as a planet–only by learning to become receptive to a greater consciousness. The awareness in us that is receptive to this greater consciousness is called “Rigpa” in the dzogchen practice of Tibetan Buddhism (compared to “Sem,” our ordinary, automatic state of awareness)—and George explains that it is contact with this, our second, sacred nature or “basic goodness” (as the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa called it) that we need to help us save the earth…or do anything that really matters.
The word “good” is descended from the Indo-European “ghedh,” which means to unite or join (echoed in “to gather” or “together”). Mindfulness is a practice of returning, remembering, recollecting. It is the practice of moments of being recollected within ourselves…and by a greater consciousness.