How do you face the possibility of death? Avoid thinking about it? With fear? Acceptance? When we think about our death we are often frightened and angry about the possibility of the loss of living. We will not be able to savor all those wonderful experiences of being human. It will be taken away from us. Is every moment taking us closer to death and a loss of the time we have to live? This fails to acknowledge that the inevitability of existence is death. Death is the expected outcome of birth. We are in a constant debt to death. We are only heading in one direction. We don’t normally control when we are going to die. It could happen in the next instant. I believe that we need to appreciate each moment as a gift of time that potentially we may not have had, rather than see it as a loss as something that is being taken away from us.
It is often said mindfulness is about: “Just being and not doing.” In being, one is with the present moment just as it is without having a need to change it. It is a direct experience of what is happening with equanimity. There is no preference making. You may have spontaneously experienced this when you have engaged in the flow of doing something that you are completely engrossed with. Listening to music, photography, art, singing etc. When we are DOING there is a conscious effort to achieve something. One is actively thinking and acting for a certain goal. The big question is what to do in order to be. It is not so simple as saying “just be.” This requires a lot of effort. The first problem is that we are just not aware of what is happening. We may be angry, sad or happy but we just don’t know that we are angry, sad or happy. Furthermore, our normal instinctive response is to judge all our experience against our personal arbitrary belief system. We are constantly identifying with our sense of self. In being, we are asked to suspend judgment and respond in a way that runs contrary to our normal reactive way. It initially requires a lot of doing to develop intentional and sustained awareness and continual reflective inquiry into the true nature of self in order to be in a mindful relationship with non-attachment with the sense of self. There is a lot to do in order to just be.
2600 years ago the Buddha said: “Anything you attach to as I, me or mine leads to suffering.” He was able to understand how we create our pain. Can you find your self? Where is it located? Does it have boundaries, a shape, a color, substance? Our modern day MRI brain scanners have not been able to identify the self. Why. Because it is not an enduring structure. It is created moment to moment as a subconscious autonomous automatic interpretation of perceived causes and conditions referenced against our personal arbitrary belief system. It is a temporary defensive creation that helps deal with our triggered woundings to feel safe, loved and worthy. When we identify with the self, we take on the associated suffering that exists with it. When we can recognize that there is a conventional self but we are not this conditioned self we can find the way to freedom. It is just a tool to navigate our world.
This comment by James Baldwin is a perfect statement of how we need to be in relationship with the present moment. An unpleasant experience arises. Our mind starts to criticize us and we feel anxious and judged. What is your typical response? Do you turn towards these negative feelings or try and deny and run away from what is happening? Most of us don’t want to face what makes us feel uncomfortable. Is this the most effective way to deal with the situation? Unlikely. If we try and push away or put up a wall to what bothers us it will still be there to haunt us. We may have pushed it out of our consciousness but it is still lurking ready to be triggered again. It will never become resolved and only continue to grow as we keep adding more to the pile of our emotional discontent. Mindfulness asks us to face and then engage our experience. We can do this experientially or cognitively. Turning your attention to your body and allowing yourself to experience the sensations without resistance can allow the trauma held in our bodies to start moving through us. One can also bring curiosity to the moment and inquire what is calling to be heard. What is this moment trying to inform you about? Only by facing what bothers you and holding it with compassion and wisdom can you develop the capacity to integrate the underlying psychological woundings that limit your ability to have freedom.
Smell a flower. Eat chocolate. See clouds in the sky. Hear the chirping of a bird. Touch someone you love. Done it before. Nothing new. What’s next. It takes quite the exceptional experience for us to even recognize it. The biggest problem is that we are just not present to what we experience. The other issue is that familiarity breeds indifference. We look at life through the lens of knowing what is going to be experienced as we have had the experience before. There needs to be a shift in order to allow awe in each moment. We need to suspend expectation and be open to what is new in each moment. We need to be with life without knowing what to expect in order to experience what is not known. Awe in the moment is revealed to us. It is not something we look to find.