15th Sunday Reflection
Describing humanity and our existence as a clot of blood; deaf, blind, and unknowing may appear particularly cynical and cheerless. Yet, Jesus himself speaks of people’s hearts that have grown dull, without perception, without understanding, lost, and forlorn. He gives us a shortlist of things that happen in our lives that lead to this state of joyless confusion, raging like rats in a shallow maze: Tribulations, persecution, and the deceitfulness of riches.
In the parlance of modern psychology, we might talk of this as living in ‘bubbles of illusion’, seeking always confirmation of our bias and prejudice. Perhaps there really is a very large hole in the bucket when I argue that ‘I think, therefore I am’.
Most of us think of ourselves as being in control of our own thought processes and that our minds are in fact our most private and intimate domains and the centre of who we are; our separate and totally individual character.
When I pay close attention however, I become conscious of my awareness; an observer of those thoughts that I associate with my being; thoughts coming and going, but I am not my thoughts. Events and thoughts come into my awareness and I classify and store what is necessary; this isn’t that, this is, and this isn’t useful to me.
These memories of ‘moments of now’ are stored in different places; a bit over here classified as an emotion; a bit over there classified as a warning and a bit somewhere else classified as good to eat! That is why our memories, unlike computers, are so unreliable and open to manipulation. We look for evidence that will validate our paradigm and miss that ‘which is’, becoming captured in our own little ‘bubble of illusion’. From this, I also listen without hearing in order to impose my particular commentary on your perceived reality.
The recent BBC programme, ‘Being Human’ showed how the introduction of a stranger into a class reunion became an accepted and ‘shared memory’ as soon as one of the class ‘recalled’ the presence of this person in their class. As soon as two or three of the class became committed to this false belief, the rest of the group fell into step and the illusion became an accepted ‘reality’. We make the same kind of commitment to our perceived memories. This is why it is so difficult to move beyond that ‘groupthink’ that seeks to stifle and to subjugate those who would expose these illusions.
In 2015, I attended a workshop in Wellington, run by Anna Breytenbach who is a professional interspecies communicator, animal activist, and conservationist. This communication with creation takes the form of projecting mental images rather than words, but must always begin by standing in a place of humility without any intention of manipulation.
Any aim which is formed by personal motives or achievement will block any communication. We stand on holy ground purely as listeners and observers. Although it is possible to project mental images of certain outcomes based on certain actions, the most common form of communication only requires an open presence to the other. Through this, we are allowed into the experience of the other.
Interpretation and judgement of this experience must be put aside as this blocks the raw experience of the moment that connects me to the other in the NOW of God.
Acquiring this skill assists not only in prayer and meditation but also in the practice of relating to others; truly aware of the other; listening, hearing, and seeing. Always when I have chosen an interpretation I am committed to a particular understanding of reality that predicts certain outcomes, and this in turn blocks my awareness, my hearing, and my vision. Inevitably, this leads to a rigid cold heart.
Even when we find ourselves attending to the present, we may discover that what our minds churn out is fairly worthless. Most of us are constantly making instantaneous judgments about what we experience. This is; this isn’t, over and over again, judging and classifying. As we allow these trains of thought to continue, we find them leading to other thoughts and judgments that do not have any real substance or value.
No, we’re not ordinarily in control of our minds, despite what we may think. We can’t turn them off, and we can’t always make them do what we want. Judgments, thoughts, and emotions seem to arise unbidden and often unwelcome.
Since mindfulness is the skill of opening ourselves to reality without judgment, it is important that we approach the practice of meditation in this spirit, relinquishing preconceptions, and expectations about the discipline. It is also essential to provide a spiritual and physical context conducive to meditation.
Mindlessness comes at a very high cost: Living with a mind that we don’t know very well, that is often out of control and semi-conscious much of the time, causes us and others to suffer greatly, probably far more than we realise.
“Whatever an enemy might do to an enemy, or a foe to a foe, the ill-directed mind can do to you even worse.” Is it any wonder we so frequently attempt to silence or alter our minds with drugs, amusements, sex, retail therapy, and other forms of distraction?
Fortunately, most of us don’t reach a mind-driven point of total despair, but we nonetheless endure the consequences of an immensely powerful, but unruly mind. We find ourselves entertaining thoughts that serve no wholesome value in our lives. We make snap judgments about individuals based on the slimmest and most trivial of evidence. We spin out falsehoods that we ourselves come to believe. We’re constantly comparing ourselves to others, a practice that inevitably leads to pain.
All of this, and more, drives us to lead frenzied lives, often on the verge of misery. Mindfulness is the power of heightened awareness and sensitivity to ourselves and our world. This sense of dissatisfaction, of which we are more or less conscious at different times in our lives, impels us to find something, anything to bring relief. Unfortunately, our minds have been conditioned to seek solutions to its torment in the most unhelpful ways.
The beliefs that compel us to keep looking somewhere else for something to bring us relief are so common that we rarely consider that it might be time to try another approach. Rather than seek happiness through the usual ineffective and counterproductive means, there is a different way.
It’s possible to cultivate a wholesome mind that will produce thoughts that contribute to our well-being and to the well-being of the whole world. We can shape our mental functions in ways that will remove the frantic, driven, distracted, semiconscious qualities from our lives; but it is not an easy journey.
When our illusions are exposed and refuted, we are freed of our cold and rigid hearts, finding something wonderful and new emerging; our being is reborn, nurtured, and ever-expanding in a language that uses essence as its lover, rather than the acid mind of control and manipulation.