One of the things that I like about the Buddhist notion of emptiness, where change is omnipresent because nothing possesses an inherent existence, is how much money it saves me on books.
For I've found that rather than buying a new book to get some fresh ideas, I can look over the books I already own and reread them. This gives me fresh ideas because I've changed from the last time I read the book, so much of it will seem new to me.
Case in point: a few days ago I was looking at the mindfulness section in my office bookcase and noticed Jon Kabat-Zinn's Mindfulness for Beginners: reclaiming the present moment -- and your life.
Amazon tells me that I bought the hardcover version in 2011, twelve years ago.
Since, I've learned a lot abut mindfulness, but I still consider myself a beginner, so I decided to take another look at the book. Based on my highlighting and notes in the back part of the book, I can tell that what most appeals to me now is different from what I liked in my first reading.
Here's some passages that resonated with me in the first part of the book, which I finished re-reading today.
(1) I'm not opposed to the idea of discipline. However, I also like to flow with life as much as possible. A mini-chapter on "The Beauty of Discipline" (they're all just a few pages long) had some good things to say on this subject.
The discipline I am referring to is really the willingness to bring the spaciousness and clarity of awareness back over and over again to whatever is going on -- even as we feel we are being pulled in a thousand different directions.
Just taking this kind of of stance toward our own experience, without trying to fix or change anything at all, is an act of generosity toward oneself, an act of intelligence, an act of kindness.
The word discipline comes from disciple, someone who is in a position to learn. So when we bring a certain discipline to the cultivation of mindfulness and are aware of how challenging it is to bring a sustained attending to any aspect of our lives, we are actually creating the conditions for learning something fundamental from life itself.
Then life becomes the meditation practice and the meditation teacher, and whatever happens in any moment is simply the curriculum of that moment.
(2) I've never understood why some people view thinking as negative, something opposed to a spiritual life, a mindful life. A "Befriending Our Thinking" chapter corrects this misconception.
It is very important as a beginner that you understand right from the start that meditation is about befriending your thinking, about holding it gently in awareness, no matter what is on your mind in a particular moment. It is not about shutting off your thoughts or changing them in any way.
Meditation is not suggesting that it would be better if you didn't think and were simply to suppress all those sometimes unruly, disturbing, and disquieting, sometimes uplifting and creative thoughts when they arise.
If you do try to suppress your thinking, you are just going to wind up with a gigantic headache. Such a pursuit is unwise, pure folly -- like trying to stop the ocean from waving. It is the very nature of the ocean for its surface to change as a result of changing atmospheric conditions.
...The mind is similar. The surface can be extremely labile, changing constantly with the changing "weather patterns" of our lives: our emotions, moods, thoughts, our experiences, everything, often with little or no awareness on our part.
We can feel victimized by our thoughts, or blinded by them. We can easily mistake them for the truth or for reality when in actuality they are just waves on its surface, however tumultuous they may be at times.
The entirety of our mind, on the other hand, is by its very nature deep, vast, intrinsically still and quiet, like the depths of the ocean.
(3) There's a me. But it's not mine. This teaching of Buddhism, and also of modern neuroscience, is both wonderfully appealing to me and also wonderfully confusing. Jon Kabat-Zinn explains things in a chapter called "Our Love Affair with Personal Pronouns -- Especially I, Me, and Mine."
The Buddha taught for forty-five years. He is said to have said that all of his teachings could be encapsulated in one sentence. If that is so, perhaps we might want to remember what it was, even if we don't necessarily understand it at first. Imagine forty-five years of profound teaching distilled into one sentence: "Nothing is to be clung to as 'I,' 'me,' or 'mine.'"
It might be helpful to reflect on what the Buddha might have meant when he used the verb "to cling." "Nothing is to be clung to as 'I,' 'me,' or 'mine'" does not mean there is no "you." It isn't suggesting that perhaps you will have to hire someone to put on your pants in the morning because there's no "you" to do it.
Nor does it mean that you should give away all the money in your bank account because it is not yours and there is no real bank anyway.
What it means is that clinging is optional, that we can recognize it when it arises and choose not to feed it. It means that the selfing habit is a major part of our default setting, that mode of mind that we revert to constantly when we go unconscious or drone on in the automatic pilot doing mode.
It means that how we relate to all our moments, all our experiences, is a choice.
It means that we can make the choice, moment by moment, to recognize how much we do cling to "I," "me," and "mine," how self-oriented and self-preoccupied we can be, and then decide not to cling to them, or more reasonably, to catch ourselves when we do it.
It is saying that we don't have to automatically and with no awareness fall into the habits of self-identification, self-centeredness, and selfing. What is more, if we are open to looking at ourselves afresh, we can really see that these thought-habits actually distort reality, create illusions and delusions, and ultimately imprison us.