There’s nothing like a graduate school course on mindfulness to stimulate all kinds of mind phenomena about what is in essence the simplest possible thing.
Let’s establish, at least for today, a working definition of mindfulness meditation. This will include the aim, as well as the act of cultivating, and finally the result, all in one definition. Here it is: knowing what is happening as it’s happening, and generously allowing what’s happening to be what it is.
This is a very simple idea, and in fact a very simple thing to accomplish. It’s happening to all of us much of the time. You feel a kind of empty, longing sensation in your tummy, and know it as hunger. You bump your elbow getting up from the table and almost immediately register a sensation of sparkling heat and pressure in that region of your body. You see your sweetheart’s face looking charming to you in a particular moment, and sense an emotion, perhaps enjoyment, feeling a warmth in your chest that might be followed by a smile spreading across your cheeks and lips. It’s basic, it’s human, and by the way, it’s incredibly difficult to sustain.
What sidetracks this way of clear, direct experiencing from continuing? In a word, elaboration. Let’s look more closely at this moment with your sweetheart. At the moment your gaze lands on that face, and you are registering pleasure, what happens? Does the experience come and go in simplicity, or is there something extra? Check your stream of thoughts for anything like the following: Oh, cute, he looks good in this light, he must be getting better sleep these days, good thing we got away for the weekend, we should eat here more often, wait, is that breakfast on his tie, heavens, I can’t take him anywhere…
Bare seconds later, appreciation has morphed to encouragement, then pride, changing to curiosity and to surprise, landing at annoyance. Can you catch all the thoughts, images, memories, feelings, assessments, resistances, etc., etc., as they are happening? If you’re able to stay with yourself amid all the lightning-fast action, you’re keeping up. I think most of get distracted from knowing what’s happening before the smile has even fully formed.
Losing track is not a problem, just an invitation to engage in a fantastic challenge called mindfulness. Choosing to cultivate a steadiness of attention that can stay with what’s happening is a big adventure, and a worthy one. So worthy, in fact, that you can find it being taught in all kinds of academic settings. And thereby arise such things as graduate classes in mindfulness. The class I’m currently taking is fantastic, with a gentle professor well-versed in theory and, most importantly, in word, deed and practice. We students are about twenty in number, a group of sincerely interested folk engaged in the study and practice of mindfulness. We’re reading books, scientific papers, we’re hearing classroom presentations, also discussing, blogging and writing about it. What a delicious temptation, to make such a big something out of, to use one of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s favorite sayings, “what looks an awful lot like doing nothing.”
Keep it as simple as you can, friends. And, don’t hesitate to study it. Simply.