Mindfulness & Meditation (Part II)


In Part I of "Mindfulness & Meditation," I asserted that mindfulness and meditation are two different acts. The first may lead to the second, but not certainly. So let's look at both actions from methodological and spiritual perspectives.

To look at the mindful method, we'll return to the article formally referred to, published at BBC.com. David Robson's "How too much mindfulness can spike anxiety." You can find the article here.

"In any discussion of mindfulness, it's important to remember that there are many different techniques that train particular types of thinking and being. The best-known strategies are mindful breathing, in which you focus on the feelings of respiration, and the body scan, in which you pass your attention from head to toe, noting any physical sensations that arise in the course of the session."

"[M]indfulness training can leave us more in touch with our feelings, which is important for good decision making. Many mindfulness practices also encourage a more general "observing awareness," in which you train yourself to notice your thoughts and feelings without reacting or judging."

All of the above is correct, but it blurs the line between mindfulness and meditation. Indeed, mindful practice focuses on aspects of one's body and physical sensations. Yes, breath awareness is one of the most well-known methods, the body scan as well. A lesser-known method is the candle gazing I described in the first installment. There are others. Mindful seeing, hearing, smelling; a whole range of practices are under the mindful umbrella. Theirs is of a common purpose, training and disciplining our unruly minds so, if we desire, we can get on with other important business; meditation.

One of my favorite expressions of mindfulness remains with me from my university studies almost forty years ago. The great German poet Berthold Brecht illustrates briefly yet wholly in a few lines:


"The Wheel Change

I sit on the side of the road.

The driver changes the wheel.

I don't like where I'm coming from.

I don't like where I'm going.

Why do I watch the wheel change

with impatience?" [1]


Even experienced meditators will sometimes need to spend some time in mindfulness to settle into meditation.


Previously, I have written of the Episcopal Labyrinth, a walking prayer method that incorporates mindfulness and meditation. Here are some comments and instructions suggested on the website of St. James Episcopal Church in Collegeville, PA:


"The Labyrinth is a meditative tool. It is different from a maze. It has one well defined path that leads into the center and back again. Unlike a maze, there are no tricks, no dead ends, no intersecting paths, no getting lost. Each visitor walks the Labyrinth in their own way. There is no "wrong" way to walk the Labyrinth."


Respectfully, I would say that the Labyrinth is both mindfulness and meditation. St. James Episcopal offers these suggestions:


"Pause at the entrance to the Labyrinth and take a few breaths to prepare for your walk, then begin to follow the path into the center. Maintain silence for your reflection. . ."


Prepare. If one were sitting, this would be the settling-in. Instructing sitting meditation, I recommend students rock back and forth to find physically centered stability. Punch the cushion to a comfortable shape and support if you use one. Rearrange your clothing so it doesn't distract you. Sit more comfortably on your chair. Settle in.


"As you walk the path, allow yourself to find your own natural pace. . ."


Your pace and rhythm are yours and no one else's. Sometimes in group sessions, there can be a subtle pressure to move at the speed and rhythm of the herd. The simultaneous energy and momentum can be helpful. Still, one should never fear adjusting oneself a bit to one's personal spiritual terrain.


"As you move toward the center, let go of the details of your life, bring quiet to your mind, concentrate on your breathing, feel the release of tension and stress. Be aware of your feelings and focus."

All of the above is a mindfulness process. The mindfulness process is preparatory for what comes next.


"When you reach the center, pause there for as long as you like. This is a place of meditation, clarity and insight."


This is the point of "Union." Zen Master Dogen refers to the dropping off of body and mind. That's it! You may offer prayers you had in mind, but the prayers dissipate, and you meld in silence with That Which Is. You wish and perhaps succeed to BE with the Eternal.


"As you leave the center, the meditation takes on a grounded, energized feeling. It is a time for integrating the insights you may have received; a time to contemplate initiative and action in the world."


Easily return to the present world. Rock a bit back and forth to stimulate circulation, reflect, and be mindful of how your body and mind are NOW at your return. Breathe and proceed.


"Not my circus. Not my monkey."


I believe this is a Polish proverb, meaning you don't wish to get involved in someone else's drama and problems. Those have nothing to do with you. At first look, it's a selfish assertion. It appears to eschew involvement with others and encourages isolation. But, in the context of mindfulness and meditation, it is selfish in a beneficial way, in the sense of finding yourself.


The mindful practice focuses you on the circus that you believe is you. The one you've identified with. And then, there's that monkey that flits, leaps, and somersaults, undisciplined amid it all.


The more one focuses, the more one sees the racket and trumpeting confusion parading through our consciousness all the time. But, hey, a circus is fun for a day. A monkey is splendid for a laugh. But, neither are the eternal existence we strive for.

Observe the circus and discern the performance. Theater is all it is. We have learned the play and our part in it throughout our life. Our part is the monkey. Frenetic, uncontrolled, manic, we play it well.



In meditation, we detach and observe our show as audience members. We become aware of the forestage and the backstage. We know it is all a construct as good or bad as our play is. We can rewrite or leave parts of it as it is. Or, we can dim the lights, leave the theater, settle into a quieter space and BE without all the theatrics.

__________________________________________________

[1] My translation from German:

Der Radwechsel

Ich sitze am Straßenhang.

Der Fahrer wechselt das Rad.

Ich bin nicht gern, wo ich herkomme.

Ich bin nicht gern, wo ich hinfahre.

Warum sehe ich den Radwechsel

mit Ungeduld?

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