Reality is made up of yin and yang, seeming opposites that actually aren't. Atoms wouldn't exist without positive and negative charges, so neither would we.
Thus when I wrote recently about my main gripe with Buddhist meditation, I knew that I wanted to balance that negativity with some positive props. After all, a bunch of Buddhism-themed books reside in my morning meditation area. I enjoy them a lot.
Except when they get into my gripe zone, explicit or implicit claims that human consciousness somehow is able to enter into a state of pure observing -- either of the inner mind or the outer world.
I argued that this isn't possible, given what neuroscience knows about how the brain/mind works. All kinds of factors shape how each of us experiences reality. Further, every experience feeds back into the "hidden brain," causing further changes in how the world appears to us.
This is great news, a cause for joy, not disappointment. Our minds are "plastic," not rigidly fixed. We have plenty of room to grow, change, and learn.
There are limits, though, to what we can become. At least, so long as we are talking about what is possible as human beings living in this material world. Imagination and fantasy have no limits, whether in the secular or religious sphere.
Some Buddhists are inclined toward a form of practice that borders on quasi-fundamentalist religiosity. They believe in supernatural phenomena, survival of consciousness after death, and other unprovables.
The way I understand it, mindfulness is simple.
It's being aware of what is happening now. Not trying to change it, though a desire to change something can indeed be part of what is happening. Much more a calm observing than energetic action, which is a large part of most people's frantic days.
There's no need to consider that mindfulness involve seeing things as they are in some sort of pure truth sense. Our experience is just that: our experience. Not someone else's. Not absolute reality.
Buddhist teachings about mindfulness remind me that no matter what bubbles to the surface of my awareness from the hidden brain in my psyche's unconscious depths, I can see it for what it is: a changeable, impermanent phenomenon which needs to be attended to, but not taken so seriously as I often do.
Things come. Things go. Me and you included.
We're all integral aspects of a marvelous natural world that encompasses so much more than we'll ever know. Yet this doesn't diminish the beauty, wonder, and awe present in each and every moment, when lived mindfully.
Today Mark Morford nailed this whole mindfulness thing from his own unique perspective in his column, "Oh my God you are so missing out." Well worth reading. Here's a substantial sample.
It is, of course, the white-hot urban affliction affectionately known as Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) hereby defined as that wildly addictive and yet totally nightmarish sociocultural dance whereby you are constantly being attacked by the overwhelming sense that so many wonderful, life-altering events are happening all around the city in any given moment that, well, there is simply no way to attend them all.
Result: the overwhelming feeling that you are, right now, missing out on some miraculous experience that is quite possibly the coolest thing ever to happen to anyone ever. Poor, poor, pitiable you.
This kind of madness, it can be downright dangerous. I have friends who suffer FOMO nearly every day, who almost never say no to a party or an invite to avoid getting knocked by the affliction, who try to cram in as much activity and social scene-stering as possible so they can build up an enormous repository of fantastic memories, friends, Evites, groggy morning-after stories, and mysterious bodily pains the genesis of which they cannot quite recall.
...Gosh, really? You say there are too many fantastic things to do? Too much to choose from? Too many restaurants, bars, cocktails, concerts, yoga classes, sex partners, books, gatherings, amazing people doing amazing things that titillate the senses and expand your body in new or wondrous ways? You are not exactly suffering. You are, you might say, spoiled beyond belief. Can you appreciate?
It only matters if it matters. The wise ones, as always, just wink and smile and tell us that you can never really be missing out, because no matter what you're doing, every single moment is actually full to bursting with divine richness, packed like a public swimming pool in a New Jersey summertime with howling, screaming divinity, raw and tactile and good. Hell, you can sit there and take a few deep breaths in the middle of a forest, and have more ecstatic joy than 100 Burning Mans on the moons of Jupiter. Well, maybe.
These masters of divine mischief, they remind us that the senses are always ready to offer their full expression, the heart is ready to feel everything in an instant, and full ecstatic consciousness is just a millisecond away. Dial into it just right, and missing out becomes, well, impossible.
You have, after all, to make a tiny but still profound shift in your awareness, a little click on over to dial into what the Tantrikas might call chid rasa (the fluid essence of consciousness) to ride the best ride of all.
It's like the great Taoist philosopher Lao Tse said, just before heading off to that new Vegas rooftop hookah bar/roller derby/burlesque review that promises to be totally offf the hook: "The greatest revelation is stillness."
Who would want to miss that?