Is Mindfulness Spiritual? Part Two

For the past two months I have been thinking about, talking about, asking about, wondering about, “anything you can imagine about” spirituality.  I’ve been slicing it, dicing it, taking it apart, putting it back together, and like the proverbial jello one tries to nail to the wall, I just can’t make anything stick!

Don’t get me wrong.  I can give you a very erudite essay that details the data on spirituality, might even inspire you or cause you to shout “Eureka!”  I’ve written clever narratives, filled with impressive logic and insights.  But to quote a beloved elder and font of wisdom, it was all a bunch of “hooey!”

OK, here’s what I make of mindfulness and spirituality.  To be mindful means you’re right here, right now, and not judging “it,” whatever “it” is.  You are awake, aware, alert but relaxed.  You’ve fallen awake, and you now experience life with clarity because you know your own “stuff,” your conditioned responses and automatic thoughts and crazy relationship habits and patterns.  And you can notice this stuff when it happens and laugh about it (to paraphrase Rumi), meeting it at the door and letting it in because it may be preparing you for some new delight.

But is that spirituality?  I have come to this conclusion: I don’t know.  I just don’t really know what spirituality is.  I just know that when I’m awake, aware, not judging, life is so simple.  I get up in the morning, have a cup of tea, read, talk to my wife, look out the window, wonder where all those birds are flying to.  I walk, breathe, do some work.  Phone calls come; I answer them as well as I can.  Sadness emerges; it guides me, tells me what is important, and then it passes.  Joys arise; they too guide me, help me to see what is important, and then joy, too, passes.  Suffering is not permanent says Thich Nhat Hahn, so work to relieve it.  Happiness is not permanent either; work to nourish it.

To be spiritual is to see the universe with clarity, to know what is an artifice of your mind and what is a clear perception.  When one’s body is safe, feeling relaxed, and one’s mind can notice emerging events without bias or prejudgment, then one responds with skill, and the response inevitably has at least a tablespoon of compassion in it.

That’s it.  See life with clarity.  Be a person of compassion.  You can try to force fit your conditioned mind and body into reacting sanely and humanely, but it’s much less taxing to simply sit, breathe, notice, learn to not judge, and then find that your body/mind begins responding to life’s emerging events with loving clarity.  Spirituality is your way of being in the world, if you live mindfully.  You can cultivate mindfulness in the service of something other than insight and compassion (e.g. for some kind of achievement or special task), but if you have a good teacher who guides you to simply notice and not judge over and over again, you’ll end up finding the font of compassion within and you’ll be transformed into your face before you were born, the face that looked at the world with new eyes, beholding everything, rejecting nothing.  And ready to smile.

Peace,

Jim

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