By John Kerry-Williams
I wrote the vast majority of this blog prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic, but decided to put it on hold with a view to writing a new piece centred on coping with life during the current crisis. It then occurred to me that I didn’t need to write a new piece tailored to the current state of affairs, as the original was rendered more profound by the presence of the crisis itself.
Due to the imposed social and cultural stasis brought about by the Pandemic, we may find ourselves contemplating and re-evaluating what is important in our lives; and what used to be considered normal may now on reflection, seem extraneous, overindulgent and possibly even shallow. In the absence of so-called normality, we find ourselves connecting with others and the world around us on a deeper and more compassionate level than ever before.
Many families are engaging with nature by walking and running in the open air instead of pounding the shopping malls and gym treadmills. We are more in touch with our neighbours and in particular our older relatives, as we reach out in kindness to do whatever it takes to ensure they are fed, clean and looked after – that they don’t feel lonely or isolated. We are becoming reacquainted with the simple pleasures in life.
Conversely, the social isolation borne of this Pandemic has united us, and strengthened bonds which were at times, brittle at best. I believe that as we begin to tentatively navigate towards a revised version of normality, we may be more receptive than ever to learn how Mindfulness can galvanize the newfound sense of connectedness we have cultivated during these testing times.
Now is perhaps the most critical moment in our modern history, to recognise what is truly important in our lives, and we are perfectly placed to consider whether or not normal is something we should long to return to. We may not all be in the same boat, but we are all in the same storm; and only acceptance, not resistance will help us weather it. Let the storm be a call to Mindfulness, and together we can learn to embrace The Art of Mindful Living.
“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”Thich Nhat Hanh
Mindfulness may sound like the latest in a long line of tiresome 21st century buzzwords, but in fact, it has its roots in Buddhism, and for thousands of years, has been known to enhance the spiritual wellbeing of millions around the world. Most of us are familiar with the word Mindfulness, as more recently it seems to have become ubiquitous in western lifestyle culture. Whether in the form of phone apps, colouring books, evening classes, our children’s classrooms – even the workplace – it seems now there is every opportunity for us to be living in a Mindful Society. However, we only need to switch on the news, walk along a busy high-street, or take a short drive to see that despite the prevalence of the word Mindfulness, it’s essence hasn’t quite made it out into the real world.
In our modern, materialistic civilisation, I think that deep down many of us sense we have become somewhat disconnected from nature. We have a yearning for connectedness, and regardless of whether or not we have a religious faith, we often feel that there is more to life than meets the eye, and are not quite sure how to reconnect. This may be because in recent times, we have been gradually converted into consumers by the capitalist business model, whose core desire is to keep us in a permanent state of discontent and disconnect – to turn everything in our world into a convenient, superficial commodity.
Mindfulness is not exempt from this, and is in danger too of becoming commodified and commercialised. So often we see businesses rushing to cash in on the Mindfulness trend; turning it into a lifestyle product we must subscribe to, or pay for – packed full of aspirational goals and targets, strategically designed – like the numerous exploitative weight-loss schemes, to keep us in a perpetual cycle of hope and failure. If Mindfulness is packaged up this way, as a lifestyle-product – something we can neatly compartmentalise or tick off the daily to-do list before moving onto the next thing; if Mindfulness is reduced to something we ‘do’ in convenient bite-sized chunks, then we can never truly ‘be’ mindful. Mindful Living should not be a goal we hope to achieve, or a target we aim to hit sometime in the future; the essence of Mindfulness is awareness in the here and now; awareness of each breath we take, and every step we walk.
Of course any Mindfulness is better than none, and there is great value in guided Mindfulness Meditation if delivered by an authentic practitioner; but rather than having a superficial relationship with Mindfulness – instead of treating it as something we just ‘dip into’ whenever it suits, or whenever it’s considered ‘in vogue’, we must learn to apply Mindfulness as much as we can in all areas of our lives, whether we are washing our hands or driving the car. It’s all well and good finding a glimmer of ‘inner peace’ within the Meditation Class, but if we then get into our car and swear at every other driver on the journey home, or ‘fire off’ a load of snotty emails when we get to work, we’re kind of missing the point.
It is vital for our wellbeing to learn how to apply the virtues of Mindfulness to all the little moments that make up our life as a whole – to not keep the ‘mindful-stuff’ separate from the ‘everyday-stuff’. Only when our everyday-stuff becomes mindful-stuff, can we begin to experience the transformative and healing nature of Mindful Living; and there is no reason why this transformation cannot begin in this very moment.
Mindfulness has helped me enormously to transform the way I experience life. It has taught me to slow down, to acknowledge ‘being’ where once there was mostly ‘doing’. Before I discovered Mindfulness, I was forever at the mercy of an overactive mind; I was that someone always seeking the next best thing; never satisfied – always comparing, complaining, self-criticising and judging. I was that someone forever seeking happiness through endless doing, planning or scheming. As a result – and as readers of my previous blog will know – I suffered with tiresome bouts of poor mental health, which I now know to be my body’s way of calling me to Mindfulness. Mindfulness is by no means a quick-fix miracle cure – and sustained practice is key to unlocking it’s bountiful rewards. With practice, Mindfulness has the power to help us all find joy in all parts of our life, no matter how busy or stressed out we are.
To understand the positive effects Mindfulness can have on our psychological wellbeing, we will first take a look at how our mind becomes conditioned in ways that despite appearing quite ‘normal’ or ‘human’ on the surface, can actually be rather detrimental to our wellbeing. We will look at how Mindfulness can dissolve our conditioning, before focusing on some techniques which can be applied to any part of our busy daily life – simple techniques that root us to our body and quieten our busy mind. We will then learn how Mindfulness can diminish our tendency to judge and criticise others, and enable us to access true forgiveness from deep within.
We will then take a moment to consider a rather dominant feature of our everyday life, where Mindfulness can literally mean the difference between life or death: driving. Here we begin to touch upon the base-level survival impulses that become activated when we drive, and that often lead us to negative, uncharacteristic behaviour such as road-rage.
In order to gain some scientific insight into the origins of our survival impulses, and the positive effects Mindfulness can have on them, we will look at the work of author and professor of clinical psychology, Paul Gilbert, as well as learning that changing the way we think can actually change the structure of our brain; that by practising Mindfulness, we have the potential to transform both our psychology and our physiology and become more compassionate and contented human beings.
We conclude by acknowledging that through Mindful Living, peace is available to us right now, in the present moment – but only if we want it, and if we are prepared to practice it. We note the exiting and vital union between spirituality and science, that through understanding our evolutionary path and by applying Mindfulness to our daily lives, we can all transform our experience of life to find peace and contentment – to accept whatever life gives us; to embrace Mindful Living.
The Conditioned Mind: Living Beneath the Veil.
Generally speaking, we humans, despite sharing many common attributes, each have our own unique ‘version’ of reality. We each have our own lens through which we interpret the world around us. As soon as we develop the ability to conceptualise at an early age, every event we encounter contributes to the formation of our opinions, beliefs and prejudices. This is a perfectly natural process, but the problem with this process, is that essentially we become conditioned to think and behave only within the relatively narrow parameters of our environment – we simply learn to ‘act out’ the various inherited cultural biases. For example, if a devout evangelical Christian, convinced that their God is the One True Almighty, was born only a few thousand miles east, they’d believe the same thing – only about a different God, such as Allah (or any other of the numerous deities created by humankind). It is not hard to see how our conditioning can soon distort our sense of reality and identity.
I liken the notion of the conditioned mind to a veil of fabric draped over us. Of course, we are all born without this veil, but each life experience we encounter is like an individual thread of cotton, and as we acquire more and more threads, they become interwoven until eventually forming a veil that covers up who we truly are. In time, our veil impairs and obscures our view of reality; from beneath our veil, we can only ever experience fleeting glimpses of reality that manage to penetrate the minute gaps in the fabric’s weave. If we could only remove our veil, we would see an unfiltered version reality.
Because our sense of identity is woven into our veil, we mistakenly come to believe that who we are is contained within the pattern of the veil’s woven threads. Superficially this is true, but we don’t realise that who we truly are is the essence of what lies beneath our veil. We don’t stop to contemplate, that in order for conditioning to even occur, there must be an essential underlying source on which the veil is draped.
We can become so attached to the identity woven into our veil, that when faced with an alternative perspective or view – a view that challenges our sense of identity – we often cannot accept it, and we may feel affronted, or offended, and may even defend our own view with as much passion and vigour as though defending our very life. In this way, when we defend our beliefs, we defend our identity – and so defend our life. Our veil can act as a barrier, inhibiting true human connection, and can often distort our perception of others – and, in the most extreme cases, can even cause us to completely de-humanise them. Consider Holy Wars for example, where people become motivated by their conditioning to maim and kill tens of thousands of people, who just happen to have a different view – who simply happen to wear a different veil. In being so blinded by their conditioning – so impaired by their own veil – they can no longer see ‘others’ as fellow human beings.
I know at times we can all feel driven to defend our ‘selves’ when we feel opposed or challenged – even over the most trivial of matters, such as someone disagreeing with our opinion of a book, a band, a film, or even a choice of shirt. But whenever we feel these impulses calling us to defend our ‘position’, it is important for us to realise that we are merely being influenced by our veil. We must realise in that moment, that our indignation is a call for Mindfulness; it is a call to lift our veil and see the deeper reality of the situation.
Mindfulness Techniques: Sensory Awareness.
The most effective way of lifting the veil of our conditioning is to honour the present moment. This is something we can all do at any moment of our daily life, and probably already do without being aware of when we are doing so. This is where Mindfulness comes in, for Mindfulness is awareness of our state of consciousness.
In order to practise Mindfulness, we don’t need a plush meditation room, incense or singing bowls; real spiritual practice happens in the real world, and with practice, we can all learn to master the art of Mindful Living. To begin practising Mindfulness in the real world, an ideal starting point is to give the task in hand, whatever it is, our undivided attention; to focus fully on what we are doing in the present moment. So if we are washing our hands, we focus our awareness on the sensations; the sound and the softness of the water, the scent of the soap; we focus on the movement of our hands and the texture, colour and warmth of the towel as we dry our hands. When we are making a cup of tea, again we value each and every part of the process, the weight and temperature of the cup – every sound, smell and texture along the way. When we are walking, we consider each and every step; we listen to the traffic, the bird song, the wind rustling the leaves and branches of the trees; we feel the warmth of the sun, or the chill of the breeze on our body. By consciously bringing our attention to our senses, we become at one with our body in the present moment; the only moment there is.
This is the essence of Mindfulness. When our attention is focused solely on our senses – if only for a brief moment – we cannot think about anything else, and so we give ourselves space to breathe and liberate ourselves from the treadmill that is our racing mind.
If the environment is particularly noisy, distracting or stimulating – a useful technique for quietening the mind is to take a number of slow, conscious breaths. As with sensory awareness, this simple technique automatically halts our racing mind and returns our awareness to the body – it is a bit like hitting the reset button.
This is a technique we can all practice anywhere, at any time during even the busiest of days – even if only for a few seconds at a time – who doesn’t have time to breathe? We can practice on the bus, on our lunch break, at our desk, queuing at traffic lights, in the doctor’s waiting room – even in the dentist’s chair. Bringing our awareness to our breathing is the simplest, and possibly the most effective of all Mindfulness practices, and it’s transformative power cannot be overstated. In just a few seconds we can return to a place of calm, in any situation.
When we focus on our breathing, our mind cannot dwell anywhere else. We don’t necessarily have to change or adapt the way we breathe – it is enough just to be aware of our breathing at certain points throughout the day; to be conscious of the sensation and rhythm of the air flowing in and out of us. Even if we only remember to take a handful of conscious breaths each day, we are already beginning to enhance our state of consciousness, and are making inroads to peace – we are beginning to live Mindfully.
Of course, the nature of our mind is to naturally drift and wander, and we simply need to accept this and not punish ourselves over it – for it is more than enough to just be vigilant of our mind, and notice when it wanders. Our mind naturally fixates on the past and future. It wants to ruminate over that family or office argument, or to dread that forthcoming exam or interview – and if left unchecked, it will go on to fabricate a multitude of irrational and disproportionate thoughts and scenarios much to the detriment of our wellbeing. Mindfulness in the form of sensory and breath awareness enables us to catch our mind as it begins to drift, and return it compassionately to the present moment – to the task in hand.
There is an undeniable physical energy to our mind’s past and future thought, and this energy cannot be destroyed – for as physics shows us, energy can only be transferred or converted. Mindfulness simply provides an outlet for this extraneous energy – a channel into which the past and future thought energy can flow and be transferred into useful, positive energy in the here and now – where it can be converted into a positive virtue. Our emotional energy is both a natural and vital element of our humanity, and as we shall see later, when we look to the source of this energy, we are not attempting to suppress or deny it – we are simply learning to mindfully harness it and not to act upon it.
Dissolving Judgement & Finding Forgiveness.
Forgiveness is far more than the three words, ‘I forgive you.’ We cannot simply talk, or think our way to forgiveness, no matter how hard we try, or no matter how many times people tell us to ‘move on.’ True forgiveness flows from deep within, and is available as soon as we find the courage to lift the veil of our conditioning; for as long as we feel compelled to judge, we can never truly forgive.
Reflect on a time in your life when you have judged another person. We have all done it – whether it be someone we know, a friend or colleague, a family member, or someone we’ve read about or seen on the news. Reflect on the things you thought or said at the time you learned what they had done; can you recall the powerful impulses that surged through you, creating disgust, anger or rage? Perhaps you thought or said things like: ‘If I was them I would never have done that,’ – ‘That’s totally unforgivable!’ or ‘They should be locked up!’ All very familiar I’m sure; but now, consider this: when we think or say such things – when we judge another person in this way, from where does our judgement arise? Our judgements are simply thoughts and opinions that stem from our deep-rooted belief systems, and therefore are merely expressions of our conditioning. So whenever we make a judgement of another person, we unwittingly insert our ‘conditioned self’ into their situation.
Now this may seem obvious at first, but we must acknowledge one vital point here. Of course we are not the other person, and so yes, we probably would have done things differently; but that is beside the point. The vital point here, is that we are not that person in that situation. If we had been born with their genes; if we had experienced everything they had in their life; if we had their upbringing – lived each and every second in their shoes – we would have done exactly as they had done. How could we not have done? If we had their exact conditioning; if we were wearing their veil we too would have known no other way in the same situation. We too, whether we like it or not, would have acted in the exact same way; we too would have stolen the money, reached for the knife, pulled the trigger, or had the affair…
True forgiveness is infinitely deeper than an act of empathy; it goes far beyond putting ‘ourselves’ in the other persons shoes. To find true forgiveness we must fully remove our veil – only then can we transcend our conditioned narrative and see the true reality of the situation; to see that the person we are judging also wears a veil, and so could not have behaved any differently to the way they did.
It is only when we truly understand the inhibiting effects of the conditioned mind that we can begin to accept that the act of judgement is futile. For to judge another person, is to completely disregard their essence; to acknowledge only their veil through our own. When we shine the light of consciousness on our conditioning, from the ashes of judgement sprouts the flower of forgiveness.
Mindfulness even has the power to bring calm onto the battlefields of modern life – known otherwise as our roads. The most significant advantage of bringing Mindfulness to our driving, is to increase our safety and the safety of others, as most road accidents are caused through lack of attention – by treating the act of driving as a means to an end; driving too fast because of wanting to be at the destination more than in the present moment.
Regrettably, when we drive, we can often become so overwhelmed with emotion that even the most placid of us can mutate into angry, foul-mouthed aggressors. The slightest miscommunication or unexpected manoeuvre from another driver can soon have us foaming at the mouth in so-called ‘road-rage.’ At a time when we actively put ourselves at great risk, by propelling ourselves at unnaturally high speeds in heavy, metal objects filled with flammable fuel and other human beings, we seem to neglect mindful attention at a time when it is most needed. When we drive, Mindfulness can literally be the difference between life and death. As with everyday life, driving is only rendered hazardous and laborious if we are not mindful. Within one short, simple car journey we can often act out a lifetimes worth of emotional drama; it is as though the journey itself becomes a condensed micro-version of our life; with our impulses and emotions quite literally in the driving seat.
Much like life, a journey without Mindfulness is a journey rife with suffering, danger, rush-rush irritability and impatience; and like life, we mistakenly come to believe that we are in full control of everything – and so when faced with a sudden and unexpected setback, we suffer greatly as we grapple to accept the situation: ‘This shouldn’t be happening!’ – ‘I can’t believe this!’ – ‘This is unacceptable!’ and so on. Mindfulness allows us to let go of the false belief that we are ever in full control of anything – for we commit to the present moment, not the narrative in our head which is forever destined to let us down, and cause us pain and suffering.
And so to drive mindfully, we focus our awareness fully on the present moment – not on the projected destination, or on the driver that cut us up moments ago. Just as with any other everyday task, we can learn to savour each sensory element of driving. We can focus on each gear change; the texture of the steering-wheel, the resistance of the pedals, the undulation of the road; the sound of the engine; the varying road surfaces or the scenes passing by the window. And, by bringing our attention back to our breathing as often as we can; in just a few seconds we can transform an often stressful and aggravating experience into one of enjoyment and fulfilment. If everyone applied Mindfulness to their driving, our roads as well as our minds would be far more harmonious and safer places.
But where do these powerful emotional impulses come from that turn us into such monsters behind the steering-wheel? Where does this so-called road-rage come from? How is it, that in no time at all we can mutate into unrecognisable versions of ourselves over the most trivial of things? To understand this at a more fundamental level, and to help us understand how and why Mindfulness can help us temper these impulses, we will move now onto the final section and take a more scientific approach to the art of Mindful Living.
The Compassionate Mind – The work of Paul Gilbert.
Spiritually speaking, for thousands of years it has been known that the so-called conditioned mind is only the outer surface of who we truly are. But in order to understand how and why we form this outer layer, if all it does is distort our perception of reality, we must take a more scientific perspective. Thankfully there has been some remarkable work in the various fields of psychology and neuroscience, as author and professor of clinical psychology, Paul Gilbert shows us in his book, ‘The Compassionate Mind’.
In his book, Gilbert demonstrates that beneath the conditioned part of our brain lies a pre-conditioned part he calls the ‘Old Brain’. This so-called old brain is genetically set in stone, having being forged during millions of years of pre-human evolution – concluded long before we could even stand upright as a species.
Just like how the brains of the myriad creatures we share this planet with have an instinctive drive to survive and pass on their genes to the next generation – our old brain’s purpose is to do just that. It is essentially our in-built survival system, pre-programmed for optimum genetic prosperity. Our old brain, by default becomes activated and automatically emits powerful impulses whenever it detects threat – which is what happens to us on a sub-conscious level for example, when we drive.
As soon as we set off on a journey, because we are suddenly in an extremely unnatural situation (as far as our old brain is concerned), our primeval survival system automatically kicks in. And so, with being in such a heightened state from the outset, even the slightest detection of threat, danger or perceived territorial encroachment from another driver can ignite in us, the highly defensive and often disproportionately aggressive behaviour we call road-rage. When we are in the throes of road-rage, our old brain is quite literally in the driving seat! Of course driving is only one of many examples of how our old brain impulses can soon overwhelm us, and on reflection, we soon begin to recognise other areas of our life when our old brain is calling the shots – when more than ever, mindfulness is required.
The fundamental point that Gilbert encourages us to note here, is that we did not choose our old brain, and we are certainly not to blame for it. Its impulsive, and often erratic survival tactics are simply its way of keeping us safe. We must not despise it; we must be compassionate towards it, because it is an integral part of who we are – we must work with it and harness its potential; we must learn to recognise our old brain impulses as a call to Mindfulness.
Now, unlike the brains of the myriad creatures we share this planet with, and what ultimately sets us apart from them, is our capacity to be self aware – to be conscious of consciousness itself; to be aware of awareness itself. For, as Gilbert explains, we have evolved a ‘New Brain’ which gives us the unique ability to do just that – to be Mindful. The magnitude of this ability can never be overstated – however, our so-called new brain is still in development, and so requires continual self-maintenance and attention. Our new brain needs a mindful ‘nudge’ to realise that its evolutionary purpose is to regulate our old brain impulses, so as not to be driven by them as we were in the early stages of evolution. Our new brain can be easily overwhelmed by old brain impulses, leaving us vulnerable (relative to our inherited genes), to a number of mental afflictions such as stress, anxiety and depression; and in the most extreme cases, can lead us to kill ourselves and others,
Mindfulness practice is the new brain’s evolutionary secret weapon for tempering our old brain. Our dilemma is that we often don’t know how, and so we need help to do this. We need help to procure a harmonious partnership between our old and new brain. We need help to embrace Mindfulness. Once we make the connection that our old brain impulses are perfectly normal, natural energy emissions, we can begin to use our new brain’s ability to mindfully convert this energy into positive, compassionate energy.
Re-shaping our Brain.
The field of Neuro-science has long known that our brain’s physical structure comprises of minute neurological pathways, formed as our experiences cause billions of tiny neurons to fire and wire together and create our brain’s circuitry. This circuitry influences all aspects of our thought and behaviour, and provides us with a scientific explanation for the conditioned mind we discussed earlier.
The amazing thing about these pathways, as research shows, is that because they are physical pathways – just as with the pathway in your garden, they can, with some effort, be re-routed. This phenomenon is known as Neuroplasticity, and until relatively recently, it was long thought that our brain, once fully matured, was a fixed entity – in that it could not be structurally altered by thought alone. But by using our new brain’s cognitive capability, it has been shown that we can in fact positively re-wire our brain circuitry. To help illustrate this, picture a lawn. If you tread along a particular section of lawn enough times you will wear a pathway into it. This worn bit of grass soon becomes the path of least resistance to get to where you need to be – for it is easier to walk on than the long grass around it. But if it transpires that this route is potentially hazardous – like if it meanders too close a deep pond with a giant crocodile in it, it would be wise to start walking a different route. Now this may be difficult at first due to all the surrounding long grass, but with time it becomes easier, and eventually a new pathway will be worn into the lawn, and you will be safely out of the crocodile’s reach.
In much the same way, if a particular neural pathway causes us problems in the way of negative, destructive thoughts or behaviours, just as how we chose to walk a different route to avoid the crocodile, we can choose another line of thought. If we put in the mental effort, and change the way we think, we can, in time carve a new neural pathway into our brain. This is not merely an abstract concept – we literally alter the physical structure of our brain; new neurons fire and wire together to form new pathways. Moreover, just as how new grass grows over the original neglected path, when we train ourselves to think differently – to think compassionately instead of aggressively for example, the old negative and destructive pathways in our brain eventually fade and become less seductive.
Paul Gilbert points out that anxious, violent and sexually impulsive thoughts are often more prevalent in us because they are the fundamental components of our old brain’s survival system: to detect threat, fight or evade the threat, and to reproduce. Subsequently, as a species we have a pre-disposition for developing a conditioned mind over-subscribed with neural pathways formed under the influence of old brain survival impulses. We must learn to train our mind – to re-shape our brain by forming new neural pathways. We must learn to tap into our unique potential to practice Mindfulness so as to live peacefully and compassionately – to embrace Mindful Living.
The amazing realisation here, is that science unites with spirituality in acknowledging that Mindfulness is a positive force for the good of humanity. This is a valuable union, as it gives us hope that real change is possible at a time when real change is essential for our future. The old brain may well have kick-started our species, but it also has the potential to end it. We must choose to use the potential of our new brain, and make a positive difference through Mindfulness practice. Ultimately it seems that we each have a choice to either live in suffering, or to live in peace…
Just as we wouldn’t expect to master a musical instrument by reading how to do it, such is the way of Mindfulness – as with most things in life, sustained practice is key – but we certainly don’t need a commodified business model to master the Art of Mindful Living. Mindfulness is completely free, and available to us all in the only moment there is – the present moment.
Through Mindful Living, the true, simple joy of life is revealed to us in all the little things we usually overlook or take for granted. If we can pause to listen to the rain, or the leaves rustling in the breeze; if we can appreciate the littlest of things of which our life is comprised – no matter how small; if we can remember to just stop and breathe, we can all live contentedly, peacefully and compassionately; we can all live Mindfully.
Without Mindfulness, we are not present in life – our bodies may be present but our minds are forever elsewhere, absorbed in past or future, preoccupied with regret, or with the boundless quest for happiness. Mindful Living does not make us immune to suffering, but it does allow us to be more aware of our state of mind – to notice whenever we stray from presence so as to compassionately take stock and return to the here and now.
When we are practised in Mindfulness, we are less susceptible to boredom and loneliness – we find solace in solitude; we find acceptance in the moment and so are seldom ‘kept waiting’. We don’t need to ‘find something to do’ in order to ‘pass the time‘. Whenever we feel impatience, frustration, boredom, irritability or despair, we know it is our lack of Mindfulness – our lack of attention to the present moment that is causing the suffering – not the situation. The situation simply ‘is what it is’ – only the narrative we apply to it determines our degree of suffering. With Mindfulness, we can learn to separate the narrative of our conditioned mind from the reality of the situation; we can lift the veil of our conditioning and in turn, leave behind judgement, envy, hatred, lust and greed, and embrace reality with a renewed sense of clarity, connectedness, and wisdom.
It takes courage to lift the veil of our conditioned mind and embrace reality. At first we may feel exposed, and vulnerable – like we are going against the flow of everyone else. But that’s OK, for when we look more closely, when we are mindful, we realise that we are not moving against the flow after all; we are simply still – no longer chasing, striving, yearning, or lusting after something we can never reach. Despite all the blurred figures busying around and appearing to not notice us, in time we realise that being still may in fact make us more noticeable – that our stillness may even inspire others to slow down; to stop, take a breath; to find the courage to come from beneath their veil and discover the joy of Mindful Living for themselves.
We are all aware of the powerful emotional impulses that bombard us whenever we are faced with threat, fear or uncertainty – and how our behaviour is affected when these impulses are activated. Through our awareness, Mindfulness gives us the clarity to identify how these impulses are exacerbated through our conditioning. Whether it is road-rage or Holy war, without the presence of Mindfulness, the conditioned mind serves only to amplify the ferocity of our impulses. Only the presence of Mindfulness can liberate us from such destructive predispositions, and guide us to peace.
Now is the time to realise more than ever before in our history – that spirituality and science can and in fact do work in unison – that through the practice of Mindfulness forged from the wonder of evolution – each and every one of us holds the power to choose not to act upon the impulses and emotions that so often bring about the worst in us. Now is the time to realise that we all have the capacity to choose be a force for good; that through Mindfulness practice, we can learn to harness the natural, bountiful energy of our emotions to bring about the best in us. To not choose this, is to opt for a future forever blighted with suffering, disconnection, greed and war; what would our future generations want us to choose?
To live mindfully is to be like a cork bobbing on the surface of the ocean, we simply ride the ups and downs, no longer looking to the horizon for happiness; we acknowledge the horizon, but we are content with where we float. When we no longer look out there for happiness – when we know to look only within, we know we have found peace.
As Jesus, The Buddha, and many others have been trying to tell us for thousands of years – inside each and every one of us lies the key to unlock eternal peace – if only we choose to look.
Thank you for reading.