Not learning; discovering. Mindfulness is not something we come to know, it’s something we come to do. Allow me to illustrate.
Imagine two days. If anyone asks us, we say that the first day was wonderful. If they ask why, we explain that we spent the first day typing letters to people who had won awards for doing wonderful life-changing things for strangers.
If they ask about day two, we all say it was horrible. One of our worst days at work, ever. If they ask why, we’ll explain that we had to transcribe sessions of brutal torture, and write letters to inform innocent people of the untimely and violent deaths of their innocent loved ones.
Let us review the facts. We are at the same desk, using the same computer and software, working for the same bosses, being paid the same amount, writing in a room the same temperature, with the same soundscape.
If all else is equal, then the only difference between a wonderful day at work and a horrible one is what is inside our heads while we’re there. Considering how ephemeral thought is, that is a wide pendulum swing –from wonderful to horrible– all using the same bits of reality, with the only difference being our thoughts. That’s worth meditating on.
As important as they clearly are, for a beginner, trying to entirely stop our thinking is often a frustrating route that ends up taking much longer than taking steps.
First we must understand our thinking in new ways. From that level of awareness we can begin to see how it can become easier to be less affected by it. Rather than stopping our thinking, we learn to make it less relevant. After all, we do need it sometimes. We can’t have a path without a not-path.
Clearly what’s in our heads matters. I won’t pretend that shifting our understanding is ‘easy,’ but it’s also not hard. I’ve said it before –it’s like learning to multiply numbers. It seems really obscure until you suddenly ‘get it.’ Then we wonder what’s actually different between when we couldn’t and when we can?
I had an insight myself today, where I realized that what I actually do with students is just describe things from the perspective they’re seeking. Because it’s very natural for me, I can analogize it. That means I can remove their ego from their deliberations regarding the sense of what I’m saying. It depersonalizes the principles involved. Then I take them back to their life with the principle established, which they often quickly realize also applies to their situation.
This isn’t a traditional top-down intellectual offering, learning this is more getting onto the same level to share the flame from a common candle that illuminates a shared path. I’m no different from you, I’m just more experienced doing this because I had the good fortune to have an accident. But when we’re healthy, we’re all achieving that health in essentially the same way. And that makes that a way worth knowing.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own over-thinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.