Orange was the new black. Now mindfulness has trumped orange and is indeed, the newest black. Talk in social media is that everyone is practicing it, “doing” mindfulness, becoming spiritual people. Sounds good! Becoming aware and conscious of what is happening in the present moment, both inside and outside our body, is a powerful and life changing skill. Mindfulness involves learning to witness our own thoughts and feelings, to observe them as they pass by, like weather or clouds moving through an open sky. The process of becoming aware of the words that our mind rattles out, as well as the feelings and sensations it belches up, frees us to be able to see our internal conditions without having to react to or be controlled by them. Mindfulness offers us a seat in the audience to the show that is our own mind. Or, put another way, a calm shore from which to watch the wild ocean that is the human mind.
The point of mindfulness, ultimately, is to get free from the tyranny of ego mind, to unhook our being and our identity from the unstable mind. The goal is to be able to see what is happening inside ourselves, without ownership, judgment or reaction. And simultaneously, to lose our great belief in and reverence for the productions of our mind. When we are identified with mind, that is, believe that we are only our mind, we are constantly being dragged around by it, having to respond to and interact with each thought and feeling it generates, regardless of whether it is interesting, important or serves us in any way. Mindfulness gives us a seat from which to watch the movements of mind, its carnival of cravings, complaints and opinions. Without the need to react to everything the mind suggests, we are then free to choose where to place our attention, and consequently, how to live our life. Mindfulness allows us to use mind for the incredible tool that it is, but without needing to be the mind. Mindfulness helps us to discover the awareness to which our mind’s play appears. I think even our minds would agree to such an opportunity, at least as a concept.
While any toe dipped in the practice of awareness is beneficial, there is a trend in mindfulness, a habit if you will, which can interfere with and obstruct the full power of the practice. Without awareness of this habit, we can spend many years lost and asleep in yet another ego prison, another trap of the mind, and as a result miss out on the real gifts of mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is trendy; it’s hip. This is good news. But we must be careful that like other trends, this one does not get swallowed up in the next stream of orange, girls, yoga, tats and the like. With mindfulness on the radar, let’s not miss the chance to change what this powerful practice can change, namely, who and how we are.
The dangerous habit is this: The mindful witness itself is becoming yet another form of ego, a new identity, a new somebody that we wear with pride. That said, we must be mindful that the one who is becoming aware of the mind is not also being kidnapped by the mind. Take the following scenario… You become aware (through your mindfulness practice) that certain thoughts are arising within you, let’s say worry thoughts. This is a good step; there is a little space between you and your mind and you are witnessing what your mind is up to. But don’t rest yet… and don’t congratulate yourself yet either. What you may not be aware of is that the witness who noticed those worried thoughts has her own ideas about what she observed. For example, she may not like that such thoughts are arising inside you. She may judge and reject you as the person responsible for thinking such worried thoughts. Or, perhaps, she may feel pride and arrogance at being able to notice such thoughts, She may identify you as someone spiritual whose “got” awareness practice down. In either case, the mindful witness here is not a mindful witness at all, but rather ego mind hiding inside a new costume. This presence masquerading as mindful witness is not actually willing to observe mind as separate and autonomous from you, with its own random happenings-inside your awareness. This mind in a costume of mindfulness blames or congratulates you for its own output, and in so doing, surreptitiously merges you again with itself. The witness in this case is not an impartial witness, not true awareness, not a path to freedom. Rather, this witness is just a sub-structure of the very ego mind you are trying to observe, and liberate from. This witness will lead you down the same rabbit hole of mind and waste your time in the process, creating a whole new spiritual ego. The mind in its cleverness puts itself everywhere. It just does this; it is not your failing but rather something else to simply notice.
In our practices to observe the ego mind, we must remember and be ever conscious of the mind’s sheer brilliance and fierce survival skills. It doesn’t want to be watched. The ego mind will camouflage itself in infinite hiding places in an effort to avoid direct light upon it. It will mask itself as awareness, compassion, spirituality, wisdom and all the best places, all in order to keep from being seen, from becoming the object and no longer the subject. The mind will take on whatever traits it needs to in order to avoid a status demotion from our identity and the captain of the self-ship to just a worker bee, a tool that awareness can use when needed. Ego mind will take up residence in any location that is not watched vigilantly. So be vigilant. Don’t lose the chance that mindfulness practice offers, don’t go back to sleep inside another incarnation of mind itself.
In order to prevent the mind from posing inside the mindful witness, ask yourself a simple question again and again… and again. With each observation, each witnessing of something happening inside you, a thought, feeling or sensation, ask the following: Is there a feeling about the feeling, a thought about the thought? Observe this. And furthermore, Who or what identity is here now? Who is there witnessing what is being witnessed now?After some practice this way, you may realize that the mind is a bit like one of those Russian dolls, each one inside another. Behind each thought sits another thought, a thought about the thought, and another, and another, each a little harder perhaps to catch sight of. Behind each identity sits another identity, and another… and another. The place where they no longer come, where what is observed is no longer observed by an ego someone or something, when we are just eyes seeing, without reaction, without good or bad… this is the place towards which we practice. This is what warrants the buzz at the water cooler.
Mindfulness is an ancient and powerful practice and well deserving of all the attention it is receiving of late. Careful though, mindfulness is more than a social media trend, more that just an “About” entry on a Facebook page. True mindfulness is a challenge that requires the fierceness of an awareness warrior, but it is a challenge that is well worth the effort. Mindfulness practice requires not only becoming aware of what the mind is saying at any moment, but also of how that very same mind seeks to inhabit the ears of the one who listens. Simply put, don’t take your eyes or ears off your mind, not even for a moment—not even if it says it’s napping, it isn’t. When you become aware of the way the mind sneaks its way behind the eyes of the witness, and steals the seat of the one who is observing, then, you are indeed free—free to watch and experience yourself and your life radically change. This is mindfulness in its fullness.
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