Performance coaches, therapists and fitness experts are doing it. Nutritionists are doing it and sharing it with their clients. It’s being taught in hospitals, prisons, businesses and even finding its way into the school timetable. What is the ‘it’ I’m talking about? The ancient practice of ‘mindfulness’. Of being ‘present’.
Many of us who’ve never even opened a spiritual book or sat on a meditation cushion are now learning to simply stop… to observe the rise and fall of our breathing… and become aware of whatever thoughts, feelings, sensations, images, sounds, tastes and smells are happening in the here and now.
And what do we discover? Whether it’s anxiety, frustration, rage, boredom, sadness, shame, happiness, bliss or total ecstasy; whether it’s thoughts idly chattering away constructing a new ‘to do’ list, or keeping themselves busy judging and criticising oneself or others – then judging the judging, criticising the criticising and spiralling off into frantic story-making; whether it’s harsh or gentle sounds, bitter or sweet flavours, pungent or fragrant smells, we start to notice that this entire kaleidoscope of experiencing is in a continual state of flux – always shifting and changing – whilst we who bear witness to it all never shift, never change, but remain constant throughout.
It’s in that recognition that a newfound sense of stillness and stability may gradually begin to emerge, which many find helpful for dealing with stress, depression and addictive behaviour, for boosting attention and concentration, for finding more clarity, creativity and focus in life.
But what if we we’re willing to take it one tiny step further?! What if we were to wonder: what is the nature of this ‘me’ that is aware of all these coming and going experiences, that in itself never changes?
Curiously the bundle of thoughts, feelings and sensations that we normally imagine ourself to be is also part of the coming and going experience. When we look first-hand, freshly like a child – before we reach into our previously held beliefs and assumptions – we cannot possibly define or even locate what it is that we really are. And in not being able to find ourself – where we end or even begin – can we really be separate from any of these coming and going experiences?
Our uninterpreted reality is continually proclaiming that our real, essential nature is like the ultimate shapeshifter. Contorting into dimensions of space and time; into ever fresh configurations of colour, sound, sensation, smell, taste, thought and feeling; into a ‘you’ and a ‘me’, the image of these words and whatever thoughts which reflect upon them.
In that extraordinary revelation we fall in love again and again as we’re wedded to every particle of life. As we recognise that this ordinary, everyday moment is an absolute miracle in action. That our partners, friends, colleagues and clients are all, in the deepest sense, expressions of our own true nature. That we can finally fully meet each ‘other’, even in the wildest depths of despair, and so understand the real meaning of compassion.
Then mindfulness is transformed from a useful technique for finding stillness and clarity, into a profound invitation to know oneself in a radically new way. Not as a separate and isolated self, but as the source and substance of all that is.