Mindfulness and Vow

One of the things that develops as we deepen our practice of mindfulness is that our inner dialogue changes, and more and more it includes a coaching toward awareness, a remembering of our intention to turn toward our life, rather than away from it. The practice of mindfulness encourages us to adopt the value of living an engaged and intentional life. Mindfulness supports us in actualizing the vow of living fully, with intimate presence.

When I was practicing in Tassajara monastery, I sometimes worked with the Shika, the person who was responsible for providing a lot of the necessities for monks and visiting teachers. Her job was a busy and absorbing one, but from time to time, she would stop in the middle of doing some task, breathe, and say: "I don’t want to waste this one precious life."

To me, that one move is the gateway to mindfulness. The activity of breathing with full awareness is a way to get in touch with the actual present and most importantly, to find our deeper purpose in all this activity. I think there is no mindfulness without the intention to be mindful, the vow to live this life. It’s what the ancient texts call ekayana, the one path.

Have you ever read a book while you were sitting outside, in the garden or at the beach? You know how absorbing and pleasant it can be. But at some point, you close the book and look out at the world. How rich it is, and how real! Mindfulness is actually a process of reclaiming our life. It is closing the book and looking out to the world.

The most useful thing I’ve learned to do is to remind myself that I want to live this life. I might chose to stay preoccupied with my inner reveries (what the Baha'i texts have called "vain imaginings") but to tell you the truth, they are not nearly so varied and vital as the life that exists beyond this mirrored curtain of mental absorption. I could try to avoid this life (these feelings, these thoughts, etc), but the only result is having this life plus a lot of unnecessary and pointless suffering. I could hold out for some life that I imagine, but then what do I do in the meantime? Life is constantly being offered to us, and it is not really something that we can profitably refuse. We aren’t normally aware of wanting to reject this life, but that is what we are doing when we avoid certain feelings or experiences. “I don’t want to do that, it makes me anxious.” I don’t want this life, I want a different one.

Our true life is not the one we wish for, it is the one we truly have, right now. I’ll repeat something I wrote in a previous post: Mindfulness is the practice of loving exactly what is. It’s not simply being willing to have this experience, to accept this experience, but it’s actively choosing to have this experience, even if we don’t particularly like it. It’s choosing to have our dislike as well. We choose completely this very life. We put our effort into realizing and affirming who we actually are, with our shortcomings and anxieties.

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Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. It is encouraging me to remember and be faithful to my practice, especially on a day like today when I would very much like to run away from an unpleasant situation at work.

Roger Thomson, Ph.D. said...

Thanks for your encouragement and your blog, too. I hope you find a way to stay open to your calling.