I am hopeful that shining a light on the mindfulness journey removes some of the mystery and frustration sometimes encountered along the way. At the same time, I hope readers resist the temptation to set goals for their practice based on this information. Your experience will likely differ from mine. Besides, setting goals or evaluating progress in mindfulness practice is counter-productive.
An analogy is offered by the children’s board game “Chutes and Ladders.” Those who have played the game will remember the frustrating feature of landing on a “chute,” which takes you all the way back to the beginning. Having expectations for mindfulness practice operates similarly.
Mindfulness is a process of letting go. This can take a while! The vast majority of awareness is devoted to thought. Difficulty letting go of thoughts should not come as a surprise. This is why we practice and then practice some more! The practice is purpose onto itself.
When I began mindfulness practice, I had to go to a quiet area of the house and wear noise-canceling headphones to minimize external distractions. Over time, I found I could let go of thought in noisy environments.
Remember the first time you threw a Frisbee? It was hard to throw it straight. Over time you sailed it right into your partner’s hands without even thinking. It’s fun learning to throw a Frisbie. There’s no reason for mindfulness to be any different.
Relax and enjoy!
Ultimately as thought leaves and we sit in presence, we discover new connectivity. We begin to see from the heart rather than through the eyes. It’s hard to find words for this experience because what is felt is beyond thought.
Presence changes our perspective. Formerly, “Self” was the center of awareness. As “Self” fades, the world becomes inclusive.
When awareness is Self-centered, the world is experienced as something “out there” and separate. Martin Bubar called this an “I-It” relationship. Another term is objectification. When we objectify something, we define it in terms of its utility to us.
Letting go of “Self” brings a new intimacy to life. Things are experienced by their “being” rather than their usefulness. In presence, the “other” becomes “we.”
Freedom from thought is an experience of indescribable bliss. Such presence is not won through effort. Instead, it ensues through practice. I strongly suspect “presence” is innate but hidden by layers upon layers of thought.
Words are inadequate to describe awareness beyond thought. It is experienced rather than known. Nature provides an illustration.
Virtually everything in nature is connected. Scientists have found that trees in a forest communicate through a network of sub-terranean filaments extending over great distances. This communication network transcends individual species enabling trees to share nutrients and warn community members of invasive threats.
When resting in presence, we awaken to the inter-connectivity of existence. This is not a change in thinking; instead, it’s a change of “being.” Presence enables a broader experience of union.
In her book “Practical Mysticism.” Evelyn Underhill defines mysticism as “union with reality.” This is what presence feels like.
Ancient masters like Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and Rumi and contemporary mystics like Martin Bubar and Thich Nhat Hanh describe the path of illumination as letting go of “Self” and awakening to union. This is consistent with my experience leading me to conclude that we possess a universal capacity for union.
With continued practice, the illusion of separation dissipates. We are no longer alone because life is not about us. We discover that instead, we are about life.
*I you have not read Parts 1-3 of this series, it will be helpful to start there. https://tim-coats.com/digging-deeper/