We are not fundamentally broken in any way. We do not have to focus on what we think we are lacking or what we think is wrong with us. Instead, we connect directly to what gives us life, what has meaning beyond the level of thoughts. We connect to who and what we are – what our body is and its wisdom, what our emotional heart feels and its wisdom, and what our mind perceives and its wisdom. Mindfulness practice also allows us to see very clearly how we deceive ourselves, how we manipulate ourselves, or others, and are often very harsh.
Mindfulness practice is not focused on struggling to become a happier person. As we all probably know, trying to be happy is quite exhausting. Even if we think we’ve succeeded, the experience of happiness never lasts. It turns out, it is a lot easier to simply be a more genuine human being. And with that sense of being genuine comes real satisfaction. It’s satisfying not to be so caught up in the never ending search for permanent happiness.
So much of our culture today seems to be telling us that we are inadequate, that unless we buy this product or that service, we are somehow less worthy as people. That acquisitive and hungry attitude is destructive, because we can never be truly satisfied for very long. There are always new and improved gadgets to buy, faster Internet connections, more fashionable clothing to wear. We have to work very hard at not “buying” into this all-pervasive view that we are somehow lacking as people. Nothing can take the place of a genuine friendship with ourselves.
Friendship with ourselves requires that we have an all-inclusive attitude. We need to be inclusive of everything that we are, including our confusion, suffering, anger, and pettiness, as well as our genuineness, humour and tenderness. It is making a relationship to everything that we are, not just trying to pick out the good bits, and throwing away the bad parts. Most of us are used to editing our experiences. We have a thought that we do not like and we suppress it, or we have a thought that we like and we try to amplify it or create more of those thoughts.
The practice is to relax that need to pick and choose and edit our experiences. Instead, we allow all experiences – sensations, thoughts, and feelings – to come, be acknowledged and go, without judgment. We do not try to feed the so-called good experiences, nor suppress or get rid of the bad ones. That is probably quite a different approach than what we are used to.
Now why would we want to do that? Because the approach of picking and editing our experiences has not worked. If it worked, we would not be looking into mindfulness practice or reading this book. We would all be perfectly happy picking and choosing our experiences, utterly content with our control over the universe. However, we do not have complete control over anything. All of us are aging. Even if we are very fortunate, even if we live a long, cheerful life, we will eventually get sick and die. We cannot completely avoid sickness, aging and death. If we have very favourable circumstances, we might slow their approach. But, they are coming. Mortality is real.
It is likely that most of us are already facing physical, emotional or psychological limitations or disabilities, if not yet in ourselves then in those we love. As we age, limitations become progressively more insistent daily challenges. Mindfulness allows us to actually embrace those challenging experiences without feeling that there is a fundamental curse or punishment in life, without feeling victimized by life. The paradox is that we are fundamentally healthy and we all are dying slowly. Even when we are ill or dying, we still can connect with our fundamental healthiness, our basic goodness. That’s the paradox of basic goodness and existence.
This means that we do not have to edit out the challenging and painful realities of life. We can explore what our experiences are and find a way to work with all of them. To do this, we will need a stable mind that can relate with pleasure and pain, boredom and excitement, life and death. If our personal sense of well-being is dependent upon whether are discursive minds are happy or sad, upon our mood swings, then we are in trouble. But, if we can find a level of human experience that is not at the mercy of thoughts going up and down, we can be free. This freedom encourages us to see through and beyond thoughts, to use thought and its wisdom, but not be at the mercy of our discursive mind.
This approach to mindfulness is not couched in religious terms. It certainly touches on spirituality in the sense that we all have spirit – we all have the life force pulsing within us. This approach to mindfulness is not based on our having to believe in something, including believing in basic goodness as a concept. Rather, it is learning how we can let go of the filter of beliefs and see directly for ourselves what is true.