It is impossible to practice coming into the present moment in this noisy environment. I am trying to be focused and aware, but this person over here is distracting me. I sit on my meditation cushion for 30 minutes everyday, therefore I am mindful.
I am not sure when it hit me that my long held and ineffectual paradigm of mindfulness needed shifting; but, continuing to embrace my hard to shed dogma was clearly not bringing me into anything even remotely resembling increased awareness.
Doggedly holding onto errant notions like someone else is responsible for my lack of being present and that simply paying attention in environments that are quiet or devoid of distraction, seems naive now that my “floating-above-the-messiness-of-living” bubble has burst.
And, don’t think I did not get thoroughly soaked in slippery, soapy, bubble goo when I careened into the paradoxical realization that 30 minutes of isolated daily sitting did not serve as a viable measure of my ability to practice mindfulness to any significant degree at any other time. (There have been many, myself included, who made no more progress toward elevated consciousness due to sitting than those who opted out.)
Choosing to consciously attend to whatever is happening in the here and now moments of daily life with the intention of dropping the habitual “laced-with-drama” labeling of those moments as necessarily good or bad, is an art that requires more than bubble-building seclusion.
Granted, for most of us, it can be quite challenging to be mindful in an environment where there is no lack of overstimulation and busy-ness. Therefore, choosing to sit quietly can prove helpful and I highly recommend it.
It is no small task to set aside time each day to be still and watch what comes up without attaching too much significance to it. But, lest we place more value on formal sitting practice than we place on the moment-to-moment practice of being non-judgmentally aware in mundane life, I dare say that sitting on a meditation cushion stays just that… sitting on a meditation cushion.
Taking the show on the road… plunking it smack down in the middle of the “bubble-bursting-pins-and-needles” chaos of daily life, would probably do more for living with clarity, compassion and skill (what mindfulness intends to bring), than the popularly touted and followed slogan, “Don’t just do something, sit there”.
Now I realize some folk out there are gonna get all jazzed up with me for what will be perceived as my lack of insight. Maybe she meditates the wrong way or she hasn’t spent enough time on her cushion or, maybe, she just wants to have an excuse not to sit and so on and so forth.
Fair enough. But, dag nab it, if sitting meditation practice does not facilitate mindfulness during the rest of our multi-tasking required lives, then does it not, at least for some, remain an empty practice that merely serves as a “time-taker-upper”? Or, at its worst, an alluring and subtle thief- you sit and meditate, therefore you are special, reinforcing a self righteousness of sorts that literally steals the living practicality right out of the practice?
And, is this not a legitimate criticism, just as any spiritual practice remains lifeless if only practiced in the safety and seclusion of the sanctuary or holy place; then heartily left at the altar upon withdrawing to the outside world of stuff.
If we cannot be mindful while driving and listening to music, checking out at the supermarket, engaging with family, friends and colleagues; if we cannot be aware while breathing and walking, attending to other sounds and sensations, moving through the “action-packed-over-the-top” fullness of space; if our awareness cannot hold it all (because that is what an engaged “off-the-cushion-big-fat-fully-lived” life entails); if we cannot go to church on Sunday and be the church for the other six days of the week, then, perhaps, we need to rethink our practice.
I for one have decidedly embraced the, “Don’t just sit there, burst bubbles” motto.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am still committed to sitting on my meditation cushion near daily. And, I would be irrevocably remiss if I left the reader with the notion that I don’t think it is a good idea to do so. In fact, the research clearly indicates that taking time each day to come into some moments of quiet mindfulness can quite dramatically and literally change your brain which, in effect, changes the way you think, feel and act. And better yet, these changes are positive- leading to stress hardiness, emotional resilience, more compassion and joy.
But the conundrum remains.
The Vietnamese Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh communicated, “The miracle is not walking on water, it is walking on earth.” And, his message of being mindful while doing that… walking on the earth, is indicative of the imperative that we must take the practice into all of our earthly endeavors.
This, then, is the life of the practice.
It would seem that authentic, transformative practice requires that one become “covered-in-bubble-bursted-stickiness”, that one take up the queer, but noble notion of re-soling one’s feet with proverbial meditation cushions. That one walk mindfully wherever one’s feet may trod.
It is not solitary sitting meditation, lack of noise or distraction, church attendance on Sunday or any other isolated spiritual practice or person that is solely responsible for our ability to maintain being mindful whilst embedded in what Jon Kabat-Zinn terms “Full Catastrophe Living” (the good, the bad, and the ugly of life’s day-to-day experiences).
Not by a long shot.
And, powerful conduits of mindfulness though they may be, practicing in a bubble. Not today, not for me.
Now, where did I put those meditation cushions for my feet?