Mindfulness is paying attention to real time reality. This can seem like such a small thing—and it is. It is a state of attention that is as natural and soft and wordless as our peripheral vision. Yet mindfulness also means to remember… what? Mindfulness pulls us back to a greater living reality, reminding us that life is more than our own repetitive thoughts or fears or desires. Rooted in the present tense world of the body rather than the thoughts, the strangely named mindfulness (bodyfulness? Lifefulness?) delivers us from the hellish centrifugal force of our own egos.
The venerable monk Gunaratana writes in Mindfulness in Plain English: “Deeply buried in the mind, there lies a mental mechanism which accepts what the mind perceives as beautiful and pleasant experiences and rejects those experiences which are perceived as ugly and painful. This mechanism gives rise to…things like greed, lust, hatred, aversion, and jealousy. We choose to avoid these hindrances, not because they are evil in the normal sense of the word, but because they are compulsive.”
Most of us know the pull of compulsions—from the siren call of the refrigerator and that last piece of homemade whatever to the thought or worry that keeps repeating to memory that shadows our lives. Mindfulness saves us by gently, gently, gently pulling us back into the world of the living, the world of new possibilities. But here’s the thing. Mindfulness is so gentle in it’s action, so subtle and inclusive by nature, that it needs the help of concentration (samadhi). In meditation, concentration on an object like the breath is a tool that keeps the sensitive attention of mindfulness anchored. The catch is that mindfulness brings meaning and understanding to what we see—without mindful awareness, concentration can become narrow and driven…compulsive.
Strangely, as I was pondering these things on Sunday, I managed to lock myself out of my house. And just when everything was going so well, when I seemed to be flowing along so…mindfully? After the first rude shock of it, after the momentary impulse to burst into tears, I went for a walk. I found myself thinking “I’m locked out, I’m locked out…and variants including I can’t believe this happened to me, Why now? As I walked, the beautiful colors of the changing leaves and the cool air or some unnamable combination called me to remember that I am here. On the earth. In that moment, I realized I wasn’t just locked out, I was locked in my own tiny skull, oblivious to the life around me. I shifted the the focus of my concentration from the mantra Locked Out to the sensation of walking and breathing, to the awareness of being alive on this beautiful earth. When I got home the door was unlocked. Mindfulness is like walking through an open door.
5 thoughts on “The Open Door”
“Mindfulness saves us by gently, gently, gently pulling us back into the world of the living, the world of new possibilities.” This is my code. Please share the provenance of the wonderful illustration that accompanies your equally wonderful anecdote.
Hi Kenneth, Thanks for your comment. I found the illustration on Wikimedia, under “Open Door.”
How about this: “There is no greater mystery than this, that we keep seeking reality, though in fact we ARE reality.” Unknown author
In the moment I realize that I have forgotten my keys, I must come face to face with another unavoidable fact. My action, my inattention, contradicted my intention. This isn’t intellectual analysis. It’s a simple observation of truth and truth bites. I must own it. I am responsible for my scatterbrained moment. If I start telling my self that, ‘Everybody forgets their keys sometimes’, or ‘It’s such a little thing’, etc. I’ve taken the wrong fork in the road and missed the point of inner work. if I start beating myself up about my mistake, or wallow in self-pity, equally I miss the point.
It bites when I make self-defeating mistakes. I feel anguish whenever I ‘shoot myself in the foot’. If I am open, allowing it to emerge, I may discover that the anguish is an impression I may receive; that this anguish ‘pill’, that has been presented to me, is actually a gift, an opportunity, a food, that is packed with energy. When such an impression is properly taken in, somehow it is so exactly what I need in the moment, so bitter-sweet, that I feel it simply must come from the Higher. The impression itself always brings with it feelings of gratitude and humility. It doesn’t come from a sense of my self. If I do not feel gratitude and humbled in receiving such an impression, it is not the impression I speak of here.