I read a book of the same title years ago. It was mindfulness meditation in everyday life based upon Zen Buddhism. I am a Christian, but I like the idea of being Zen-like. That is, being present to what is. Like it or not, this moment is all we really have to work with. Yet we all too easily conduct our lives as if forgetting momentarily where we are, and that we are in what we are already in. When we don’t pay attention to what is present, we momentarily lose touch with ourselves and with the full extent of what is possible at the time. Instead, we fall into a robot-like way of seeing and thinking and doing. Here’s the thing: If we are not careful, those clouded moments can stretch out and become most of our lives.
We need to learn to actually feel the present moment. This is not easy, because we are often distracted by thoughts and memories. We think we’re paying attention, but we’re somewhere else. When this happens due to horrific past abuse, patients go into a fugue state. This is called dissociative disorder. I worked for a few years in an inpatient psychiatric unit for women who were diagnosed with multiple personality disorder. It was nearly impossible for these women to stay present. Triggers would cause their personality to change, and they would become some other alter personality. This would also involve the belief that they were somewhere else. In fact, they would even think they were in a previous time. This was their coping mechanism for dealing with past abuse.
Only by feeling the present moment can we accept the truth that is our life, learn from it, and move on. Instead, we are often preoccupied with the past, with what has already happened, or with a future that hasn’t happened yet. I’ve heard it said that if we have one foot in yesterday and another foot in tomorrow we’re pissing on today. Believe it or not, our thoughts have the ability to define what we see and what we don’t see. What we do and don’t do. We lock ourselves into a personal fiction that we already know who we are, that we know where we are going, and that we know what is happening. But we are actually engulfed in thoughts, fantasies, impulses, mostly about the past and about the future. This veils our direction and the very ground we’re standing on.
The work of waking up from these situations is the work of meditation. It is not an easy thing, sitting and doing nothing. Thinking about nothing. We tend to immediately go off on some tangent about an event or an emotion or an idea. I was told to buy an egg timer and set it for one minute. Then try thinking of nothing until the bell rings. I was to keep doing this until I made it to one minute. I was told to then try it for two minutes, three minutes, and so on. Not knowing that you are living in a dream or distraction is what the Buddhists call ignorance or mindlessness. Being in touch with this “not knowing” is mindfulness. Despite how hard it is to achieve this, it is worth the work. There are great rewards. We end up with a certain wakefulness or present-moment awareness. We then have the potential of seeing more deeply into cause and effect and the interconnectedness of things.
A full life is painted with broad brushstrokes. It can be said that many paths lead to understanding and wisdom. Is this contrary to the message of Jesus Christ that He is the way, the truth and the life? I think not. I have a book on Jesus and the Buddha. It shows us how mindful meditation can get us to a point where we are present with God. Certainly, we have to be ready to hear God. We also have to be ready for meditation. We have to come to it at the right point in our life, at a point where we are ready to listen. This is hard work.
What is required in order to experience mindfulness is a willingness to look deeply at your present moments, no matter what they hold, in a spirit of exploration and acceptance. You have to be open to the possibilities of what might be. Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, “Only that day dawns to which we are awake.” This mostly has to do with being “in touch.” It’s a genuine way of being. A diminished awareness of the present moment inevitably creates problems for us through our unconscious and automatic behaviors, often driven by deep-seated fears and insecurities. I am a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, and have come to realize that being drunk or high makes it even harder to be aware of the present. It completely clouds your experience. It causes execution of poor judgment and a lack of ability to see how your actions are connected inextricably to the common good.
When we’re stuck, we’re out of touch and we lack confidence in ourselves in the moment. Mindfulness provides a simple route for getting ourselves unstuck, back in touch with our own wisdom and vitality. It is a way to take charge of the direction and quality of our own lives, including our relationships within the family, our relationships to work and to the larger world and planet, and most fundamentally, our relationship with ourselves as people. This is actually the direct opposite of taking life, our family and our friends for granted. Without this mindfulness, we are severely limited in our perspective on what it means to be a person and how we are connected to each other and to the world around us.
I like to think of mindfulness as the art of conscious living. The most important point is to be yourself and not try to become anything that you are not already. Mindfulness is fundamentally about being in touch with your own deepest nature and letting it flow out of you unimpeded. So mindfulness will not conflict with any other religious tenets. It is simply a practical way to be more in touch with the fullness of your being.