Me being mindful – or are those sausages burning?
So, what does this ‘living the mindful life’ really mean? And how does it relate to what some would call the ‘spiritual life’?
The picture above is taken from a short break I spent at the beautiful Garn Farm (see http://www.warmthandwonder.co.uk) where I give the impression of being fairly chilled – or maybe just far, far away. But what you don’t know, of course, is what is actually going on in my mind at the time. To be honest I can’t remember but I do know that even when we ‘get away’ we take our own stresses, worries and fears with us and they can surface and niggle at us rather persistently – especially when we have less to distract us.
Living with intention.
Living this mindful life, then, is not just about doing less or having more free time but about the intention we bring to the whole of life. And so first, perhaps, to think about what my intention really is – what am I doing this for? – what drew me to mindfulness in the first place? It may be that something simple and practical drew me like the desire to manage stress, depression or anxiety – or to find help with some life issue. In which case mindfulness has a lot to offer and it is really worth recommitting to on a regular basis as we call to mind how it has helped us in the past.
But my own thoughts nowadays are moving beyond this initial ‘self-help’ or therapeutic value of mindfulness to something more to do with the whole of my life. Certainly mindfulness has transformed the way I manage stress and low mood but is there some greater purpose beyond being less stressed? Why am I seeking to be less stressed anyway? What is all this leading to?
For me, the bigger picture is connected with the key means by which stress reduction comes, which is cultivating awareness – deep inner awareness of all that it means to be human, to live in relationship with other humans and, indeed, with the rest of nature. What is it really all about and, more importantly, how should we live? There are, of course, countless philosophical and theological answers to such questions but mindfulness offers something different. Mindful awareness is not just understanding but something more experiential, more immediate, more lived, more felt. And it is not something that just happens in the head but happens in the whole body and even in the space between bodies. Mindful awareness has the ability to transform the whole of life – in our moment by moment experience.
I have ringing in my ears various grand sounding intentions for life which I think started in rock poetry: ‘I want to grow old before I die’ -vs- ‘I want to die before I grow old’. But my intention is simply this: I want to wake up before I die. I want to live as fully and as richly and as compassionately as it is possible for me to live and I want to share this journey with as many others as possible – and in this way to make my own small contribution to transforming the world. That’s what I want – that’s what I am in it for and that’s why I get up in the morning and meditate – because I see this as a key part of the picture.
For many, this is simply what spirituality means to them: connecting with a key and fundamental life purpose and then finding the means to live it out creatively. Many with spiritual or religious backgrounds will take a lead from their own faith and scriptures and will want to relate such a calling to their own theological roots. But still there will be a sense of particularity about our own part – our own ‘call’ as some would put it. And some slant on ‘waking up – to life in all its fullness’ will be a key part, if not the key part, in most positive spiritual traditions.
And so, when I have recognised my deepest intentions for life, this leads to the thought of setting a structure for my life which supports this intention. Much more on this in future blogs but very simply and very basically, when I have found and clarified my intention, the next stage is to consider every aspect of my life as far as is possible within my own limits and ask the question, does this support or take away from what I truly long for? Am I doing this thing or that thing out of habit, because of long forgotten expectations of others, out of fear or anxiety or because it truly supports the main objectives in my life. This is a difficult, often complex and potentially long term process. But if we don’t start exploring this question now then we may forever remain stuck in structures which are only ever going to thwart the life within us. Some of us may feel we have very few choices in life, so heavy are our commitments. But the trick is to notice even those few and to exploit them to the full.
Not long ago I made a very big choice in life and stopped working for the institution I had served for a quarter of a century (wow – put it like that and it sounds quite big). I continue to work quite hard but one of the things this has done for me is to give me a few more choices in how I structure my life. This feels good. In a sense I am starting again and almost everything I do can come under the scrutiny of ‘does this serve or thwart my deepest intentions for life?’. In future blogs I want to share some of how this has been going and in this way to open up possibilities to reflect on as to the way we live our lives and how mindfulness can become a way of life for us and not just a thing we occasionally do – or worse, just one more thing we feel we ought to do!