Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Pace of Mindfulness

I have lately become a fan of Daisy Hickman's blog, Sunny Room Studio.  Today she was reflecting on writing by Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh who wrote,
     "Our habit energy is what causes us to repeat the same behavior thousands of times... The practice of mindfulness helps us to recognize that habitual energy.  Every time we can recognize the habit energy in us, we are able to stop and to enjoy the present moment.  The energy of mindfulness is the best energy to help us embrace our habit energy and transform it. The energy of mindfulness is the full awareness of the present moment...The energy of mindfulness carries within itself the energy of concentration.  When you are mindful of something, whether that something is a flower, a friend, a cup of tea, you become concentrated on the object of your mindfulness.  The more you are mindful, the more concentrated you become.  The energy of concentration is born from the energy of mindfulness.  And if you are concentrated enough, the energy of concentration contains the energy of insight.  Mindfulness, concentration, and insight are the energies that make up the Buddha."

Ms Hickman went on to say,  "A superficial life is much like an “unexamined life,” a sequence of events without meaning or purpose. Or understanding."

My studio is very sunny and quiet today, Sunday.  There is no music, or sound other than an occasional bird or muffled road noise from a passing car.  I am at work on an intricate gourd and, at the moment, the sculpture medium needs some drying time.  For a while I can drift in the topic of mindfulness.  

There is something acutely near my mind that I cannot quite grasp.  This sensation surfaces frequently when I am in the midst of my work.  The creative process is one of great concentration, or mindfulness, when one is fully engaged.  Some would call it focus.  Others might define it  in more religious terms as in God speaking to me.  I am neither a very scientific, nor a very religious person, so those analogies don't quite work for me.  Nor am I of a meditative nature.  My mind is not easy to quiet.  One of the most difficult things about being an artist is turning the generative mind off - sleep eludes me, and when it does come, it often arrives with much dream activity, sometimes solving problems, often giving the gift of wholly finished works which I must try to capture in my conscious mind in the instant of waking, lest they slip away.  But, I do like to ponder.  

Buddhist thought is often expressed in simplistic terms and becomes trivialized as greeting card adages.  An example of this was in vogue several years ago when everyone was spouting "you create your own reality," and much sadness transpired as folks with major illnesses came to believe that somehow they had created their illnesses, and parents dealing with the death of a child were shamed into believeing they were to blame for their tragic circumstances.  Too simplistic.  Not incorrect, perhaps, in certain deeper implications, but far too simple to be left unexamined.  Life is not a greeting card.  Why are we always looking for the simple, the easy, the quick in everything that we do?  

Ms. Hickman went on to say,  "A superficial life is much like an “unexamined life,” a sequence of events without meaning or purpose. Or understanding."  I agree with this, knowing that I have many superficial moments - after all, how deep is the moment I spend plucking my eyebrows or making certain my dishes don't have water stains on them?  We could talk about levels of superficiality here, but let's not.  Pick up People magazine for that.  But I do think that some pondering on the Buddhist Mindfulness-Concentration-Insight path is worth some time.
The link that Mr. Hanh makes is mightily important, because it points to growth, and by extension, change.  Ms. Hickman's "sequence of events" may coincide with a certain level of mindfulness (think focusing, visualizing that new car, winning lottery ticket, check-in-the-mail from nowhere).  But is there meaning or purpose beyond the simplistic car, ticket, check?  Does the mindfulness of the self (or self-desired object) lead to Mr. Hanh's "concentration?"  He says, "The more you are mindful, the more concentrated you become.  The energy of concentration is born from the energy of mindfulness."  So, when we are disappointed that the car doesn't materialize, do we recognize that we have not fully enrolled ourselves in the mindfulness of the car, to the point of concentration?  Probably not.  We, most likely, are like a child who wants what he wants now, until he wants something else in the very next moment.  Which leads to the question of what happens in the state of "mindfulness?"  Turns out that perhaps mindfulness is not so easy after all, nor simple.  I'm pretty certain that anyone reading this who has been practicing mindfulness for very long, is having difficulty staying in the moment, without clicking to another blog.  Yes, I say yes, not so easy.  Not simple.  How many things snag your consciousness when you are focusing on mindfulness of breathing? Please!  I know I've already copped to not meditating.  So what is there for us less disciplined folk, we who feel our stomach rumble in the middle of the out breath, who have to scratch the itch impeding our in breath, whose every aching joint and muscle scream for our attention while we sit cramped in the impossible lotus? 

There is this: slowing down.  That's all.  Just slowing down.  Try this: get three clocks- one with no second hand, one with a second hand, and one digital (stop watch) counting one-hundredths of a second.  Sit down with them, one at a time, and be mindful, or concentrate on one specific thing for two minutes.  Be mindful of how well you can do this in each given time sequence.  This is not rocket science, because, as I mentioned, I am not of a scientific bent.  It is, however, pretty obvious.  Given the slower pace of the clock with no second hand, your mind quiets itself, able to readjust it's thought even if it wanders.  It wanders, if you will, at a slower pace.  I think that perhaps what Mr. Hanh is telling us is to slow down.  Being in the moment is not equivalent to jumping into the moment.  It is slowing down your eternal forward motion enough so that the moment, the elusive moment, can envelope you.  The moment isn't stationary.  It isn't a stop in time.  The moment is moving forward also.  But, if one is able to slow down, become enveloped in the moment, that act will take you to a different place than you would otherwise have arrived at.  And that is the insight.  That by slowing down, we can change what we are consciously aware of; we can alter our moment, and in that altered moment, or altered consciousness, something may open for us.  An insight. An understanding.

"A superficial life is much like an “unexamined life,” a sequence of events without meaning or purpose. Or understanding."  A superficial life, then, is a life in which we, without consciousness, allow ourselves to be propelled by the ever increasing speed of the Universe, without pausing to experience our own being.  

1 comment:

  1. I am humbled by your blog post and value the connection a great deal! Thanks so much for taking this topic and writing about it in the context of your life and art. As you say, we are drawn to the superficial in many ways, yet, what can it really offer us beyond practical implications? Still, out of habit, and due to social customs, it seems we are often willing to settle for this dimension in life. You made some excellent points, Whitney. I will ponder and return to your blog. Lovely meeting you. --Daisy in SunnyRoomStudio