Having given up on organized religion, an Eastern/Indian variety, after 35 years of embracing the lure of returning to God by traversing supernatural realms, I've become enamored of mindfulness.
Before making another attempt at this, this is how a book I'm reading, and enjoying, "The Mindful Way Through Depression," describes mindfulness.
As we said toward the end of the preceding chapter, mindfulness is the awareness that arises from paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally, to things as they are. It's a way of shifting from doing to being so that we take in all the information that an experience offers us before we act.
Being mindful means that we suspend judgment for a time, set aside our immediate goals for the future, and take in the present moment as it is rather than as we would like it to be.
It means we approach situations with openness, even if we notice that they bring up feelings such as fear. Being mindful means intentionally turning off the autopilot mode in which we operate so much of the time -- brooding about the past, for instance, or worrying about the future -- and instead tuning in to things as they are in the present with full awareness.
It means knowing that our thoughts are passing mental events, not reality itself, and that we are more in touch with life as it is when we allow ourselves to experience things through the body and our senses rather than mostly through our unexamined and habitual thoughts.
This is a wonderful balance to how religions typically view life, which definitely includes the religion I was a part of for those 35 years, Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB).
The present moment isn't valued highly by religions. Neither are the body and senses. Nor is looking at things as they are rather than as they're hoped to be. Or giving up judgment.
For over three decades I accepted (with gradually increasing doubts, admittedly) that the purpose of life wasn't to be found in this physical world, but in leaving material existence and entering higher domains of reality beyond the physical.
So what RSSB taught basically was an anti-mindfulness: fill your mind with thoughts of God, the guru, and returning to the supernatural realm of Sach Khand; reject your weaknesses, often summarized as lust, anger, greed, attachment, and egotism; continually judge yourself to see if you're living up to the other-worldly standard of the RSSB teachings; look upon everyday life as an illusion not meant to be taken seriously, since your genuine divine form of existence lies elsewhere.
When I broke away from my religious dogmatism, it felt wonderfully refreshing to simply look upon myself as a human being having a human experience. Yeah, I realize that if you've never been religious, you're probably thinking, "Well, duh, why'd it take you so long to realize something so obvious?"
Good question. But not one that I spend a lot of time pondering.
The past is gone. I try to learn from my past mistakes. However, since they didn't seem like mistakes at the time, I do my mindful best to stay focused on the present rather than dwelling on what could have been if I'd done something differently in the past.
In no way do I claim to be proficient at mindfulness. I regret things that I've done. I worry about things that might happen to me in the future. I judge myself. I judge other people. Still, learning about mindfulness has helped me tone down all that.
I've learned that whatever I may think about reality, including the reality of my own life, the actuality of reality often turns out to be quite different.
So being open to surprises, to new information, to fresh insights, to being wrong -- that feels wonderful after so many years of erroneously believing that I knew what life was all about, including cosmic secrets that one day I would be privy to thanks to my initiation by a RSSB guru.
Now I look upon myself as an ordinary person living an ordinary life. After 35 years of religiosity, that feels absolutely extraordinary to me.