Mindfulness

Some structure is necessary. The morning meditation begins the day well and puts everything in perspective. Sometimes the meditation has gone well and the mood it generates pervades the morning. Sometimes it goes badly. On the worst days it becomes impossible and the mind is like a Mexican jumping bean, unable to be still for a moment. Moods are important. Worry and anxiety are destructive and make stillness almost impossible. These are surface moods concerned with practical and material things, like money, or a leaking roof, or the boy’s activities, or is anyone ever going to buy our house. Suffering and anguish are helpful because these are deep moods and open up existential depths. They put everything in perspective and material anxieties are seen for the relatively inconsequential things that they are. Moods are important in setting the tone. They underline the meaning and significance of the moment and, to a great extent, determine what and how situations will be approached. But since they are also ephemeral, constantly shifting and changing, not just from day to day, but from moment to moment, they make a consistent spiritual life very difficult.

In the ordinary world of work moods can more easily be dealt with. The task in hand assumes an overriding importance.  Children have to be fed, got to school, work has to be prepared, meetings attended etc. One is forced one to put self and feelings on one side and distance the mind from them. The occasional periods of meditation then become a welcome escape to an oasis of calm, peaceful tranquillity. Because these moments are breaks in a very different routine they lack a sense of progression. The routine sets the tone and the pace. The breaks in it are just momentary interludes, each one unique, a new beginning. It is when one tries to integrate the two by meditating regularly every day that the difficulty arises. Then the volatile moods and feelings generated by the routine world intrude into the interludes of meditation. Because during meditation there is no demanding task in hand to occupy the attention the moods and feelings take on a commanding dominance. Faithful adherence to the techniques of meditation – saying the mantra, counting the breaths, etc., can cope with them during meditation and distance them to a certain extent. But once the period of meditation is over mindfulness becomes increasingly difficult to maintain.

In the framework of the monastic enclosure and the Rule, dealing with the roller coaster ride of moods and feelings is not quite such a problem. The routine of Divine Office, work and lectio divina, by its very monotony and the very restricted variety of situations it provides, can have the opposite effect and generate a numbing and all-pervading mood of accidie, a problem that greatly exercised the ancient monks. I suspect that the root of this was a preoccupation with self. Much of Christian spirituality is bedevilled by an obsession with attaining an idealised self, pure and unblemished, an ethereal being with no trace of carnality. 

My problem is neither of these. As I am retired I can order my day pretty much as I please. Family life makes demands, especially during the holidays, but these are not problems. My problem is myself. How do I maintain mindfulness throughout the day?

 A thought struck me – that the key is doing good. It is not enough spending hours in payer and meditation. Solitude and the eremitical life, however much they may appeal to some, are not the natural state of man. It is relationships which make us. Love is creative and life giving, literally. It is in the outpouring of love to others that we become most fully what we are meant to be. ‘God became man so that man might become God,’ Athanasius said. God is self-emptying love. There is so much contained in the ideas love, kenosis, sunyata, and developing it is not something that can be done just through philosophical analysis. It has to be lived. 

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