Last year I noted that "Mindfulness has become my meditation." That's been true for quite a few years.
For a long time, over three decades, I was a believer in a mystical form of meditation aimed at detaching one's consciousness from materiality and letting it soar into non-physical spiritual regions of reality.
Sounds good. But it was a fantasy. There's zero demonstrable evidence that supernatural domains even exist, with less than zero evidence (assuming that's possible) anyone has gained access to them.
But this world is real.
Sure, there's valid doubts about how accurately the human brain is able to cognize physical existence, since our organs of perception, analysis, and understanding are unavoidably prone to errors.
So we've got to deal with how the world appears to us, since there is no way of knowing what it is like from some sort of abstract outside perspective -- a topic Thomas Nagel discussed in his book "The View From Nowhere." (Which I haven't read, but plan to.)
Mindfulness meditation appeals to me because it seeks to see things as clearly as possible from within our inherent subjectivity. Every morning I listen to guided meditations via the Calm and Waking Up apps on my iPhone. Tamara Levitt does the Calm meditations, and Sam Harris the Waking Up meditations.
Recently I've also been listening to guided meditations that accompany the book "Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World." (They're on the publisher's web site.)
I recall that many years ago a comedian on Saturday Night Live who played a character called Father Guido Sarducci. One of his recurring jokes was the Five Minute University.
Father Guido’s Five-Minute University aimed to teach students in five minutes “what the average college graduate remembers five years after he or she is out of school.”
In that spirit, here's some headlines, so to speak, of what I remember most from the three mindfulness apps/programs mentioned above.
Calm. Tamara Levitt enjoys speaking in this fashion. Breathing in, know that you are breathing in. Breathing out, know that you are breathing out. This may sound trite, but for me it is the core of mindfulness practice. I say something similar frequently to myself.
When my mind wanders in my Tai Chi class, I tell myself, "While doing a Tai Chi form, know that you are doing a Tai Chi form." Ditto while driving my car. Or washing the dishes. Bringing mind and body into sync, attending to the same thing, is a powerful way of staying in touch with reality.
Waking Up. Sam Harris frequently asks the listener if in addition to being aware of the breath, say, there is a center to consciousness apart from that awareness. Meaning, I believe, a self or soul that stands apart from what awareness is conscious of.
Looking for that center doesn't take long. Harris says it should last no longer than a snap of the fingers. Finding no such center, we're led to understand that an enduring unchanging self is an illusion, in line with Buddhist teachings. All there is, is a bunch of stuff happening within our consciousness.
Mindfulness book. I believe Mark Williams, a professor of psychology at the University of Oxford, and co-author of this book, narrates the guided meditations related to the book's eight main chapters.
I liked what he says in the Week Four meditation: Stillness is nourished when we allow things to be just as they are, right now, moment by moment, breath by breath.
This theme is echoed by Levitt and Harris. We aren't trying to change anything through mindfulness meditation. We aren't seeking to gain wisdom, be a better person, or grasp the secrets of the universe. We're simply trying to see things as clearly as possible.
Harris likes to speak about dropping back into the space from which awareness of this and that occurs. This is a powerful idea, because it makes it possible to be mindful of anything, really, including mindfulness itself. It's always possible to take a step back.
That isn't a distancing or denial of what we're experiencing, such as a painful emotion. Rather, I think Harris is correct when he advises that when something is bothering us, we should try to get closer to that feeling, to burn up with that feeling.
He claims that this will allow us to get over the pain in moments, or at most, a few minutes.
I do agree with Harris that trying to change how we feel, as if we were a disobedient dog that needs training, is counter-productive. Better is to simply be acutely aware of how we feel, which rather counter-intuitively, helps the feeling to pass more quickly.