Mindfulness and mindlessness, they're in competition these days, have you noticed?
With the bustling holiday season nearing an end, many Americans once again wonder this New Year about peace and joy. Some have approached in grateful mindfulness, counting blessings and making idealistic resolutions. Others have defaulted to mindlessness; besieged by constant consumer ads and bewildered by the subtle pressure to change bad habits they, we, become scatterbrained.
Even current politics and the upcoming presidential elections are getting into our minds and creating other mental storms. A New York Times front page story last month reported how the new field of "neuropolitics" studies how the mind and nervous system can be gauged — and manipulated by — politicians and marketers.
Then there's two new books, "Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age," by Sherry Turkle, and "Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet Age," by Sven Birkerts. The authors are kind of like modern Thoreaus decrying the alienation created by technology and busied-modern life, showing us how we fail to engage the present moment or inner self.
In a world like this, how can one find peace and mindfulness? We all must try. I did, and still do.
Back in the early 1980s I took a college course in meditation. ¿ It was a life-changer. My teacher, who seemed like a Zennist Santa Claus, as he looked like one of each, introduced our class to mysticism and philosophy, and of course meditation. ¿
We studied classic writers like St. John Cross and Chuang Tzu, and modernists like Thomas Merton and the Dalai Lama. I loved it, and it's one of the reasons I became a Catholic priest. We were required to meditate 10 minutes a day, and even though this was difficult, eventually those 10 minutes off the tenacious treadmill of multi-tasking, back then, grew into the mindful practice of meditation and prayer I still turn to daily.
Now "mindfulness" is a thing, and companies are doing "mindfulness workshops" — all of it mystically marketed through various TED talks and aging Buddhists like Thich Nhat Hanh, along with Hollywood stars (Richard Gere) and athletes (Kobe Bryant ) and musicians (Joni Mitchell). Are you mindful of all this?
Mindfulness, in its myriad forms, can be described as: calming the mind to be fully aware of the present moment, whether an activity, thought or inner state. Or, as in a Latin maxim: "Age quod aegis" — do what you are doing. Focus, concentration, stressless flow.
I witnessed this once when my friend, Mike, drove me to the doctor, and we entered into a seeming mindless brew of the frenzied waiting room. Three TV's were blaring toxic talk shows amid the incessant hum of arguing patients, overhead announcements and shutting doors. Anything but peaceful. I looked over at Mike, anticipating his upset, and yet he was serenely meditating right under a TV, eyes shut and prayer book in hand. Mindfulness.
With today's challenges and the inevitable "grocery lists" that run through any person's mind, we aren't always mindful of what's in front of us — the beauty of autumn, a friend or cup of coffee. Ever drive down the road with a preoccupying thought and miss the exit? Mindlessness! Then there are the "ANTS" — automatic negative thoughts that pop up. We're all challenged to simply just live life, juggling innumerable mental balls in the head.
Upshot: We're ripe in the USA for mindfulness. So many find it difficult to live in the present, yet many feel the need to change.
So, honoring simplicity, here are the ABC's of mindfulness that anyone can follow:
Appreciate. each present moment, whatever you are doing. Gratefulness stretches the heart and increases awareness of the present moment.
Be still. Remember, we're human beings, not human doings. Practice meditation 10 minutes a day and eventually increase it. Stillness and silence are healing.
Clean house. Meaning, your mind. Meister Eckhart, medieval mystical theologian, once said: "The spiritual life is one more of subtraction than addition." Remove static.
So, with the holidays, new year, elections and techno-advances approaching and ending, it's your choice: mindfulness or mindlessness.
Rev. John J. Lombardi is pastor of St. Peter Church in Hancock. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.