Our Best Chance is Mindfulness

Photo by Sean Ochester

Whenever I run into perspectives that are truly perplexing to me, I do a little research in order to try to understand them better. The views that are most difficult to get my head around are the ones that are seemingly contradictory. It’s relatively easy to have some humility around this, because I realize I can be a bundle of contradictions myself. So, I’m genuinely curious about making sense of differing views and I realize I might be missing something. Yet, rarely does my research ever end up making sense of it.

When I do the research, it usually leads me to the same conclusion – we human beings aren’t very logical. We tend to be subjugated by our mental constructions and pet concepts, which are largely unexamined. I am reminded again and again, that the only real hope we have for humanity is if we make it a social norm to be more aware of our inner experiences. It seems probable that if we were truly aware, the vast majority of us would be relating to ourselves and the world with greater compassion and wisdom. But, it’s easier to stay asleep. I am reminded of Marge Piercy’s poem To Have Without Holding – the line “Learning to love differently is hard.

Though we claim to value qualities such as humility, kindness, patience, and trust, our collective actions don’t tend to back up our claims. As a country, where we spend our time and resources, who we choose to be our leaders, and how we treat the Earth and it’s creatures would largely suggest otherwise. This is because our untrained attention gets hijacked by compelling stimuli – shiny objects (what’s new, unique, entertaining) and strong emotions (fear, desire, anger, exhilaration). We become over-focused on some things to the exclusion of others, leading to contradiction and even hypocrisy. When we are mindless, it’s easy to unknowingly stray from our deepest values.

Maybe you’re beginning to understand that mindfulness is not passivity or pure relaxation. It’s a conscious choice to be intentional about where and how we place our attention, which takes dedication and lots of practice. Over time, we begin to interrupt our habit of doggedly pursuing a select few desired objects of attention and pushing away or ignoring that which is unwanted or uninteresting. Instead, we set an intention to welcome it all into our awareness, even when we disagree with it or don’t like it. This allows us to see things more accurately and make better choices.

Thinking about it in this way makes it clear how important mindfulness really is to creating a better world – it has to start from within. Those of you who are already practicing with dedication are doing your part to set a new social norm – to be an example of wakefulness – and I am grateful to you for it. For those of you who haven’t yet begun this journey, don’t take my word for it – I invite you to check it out for yourself.

Learning to love differently is hard,
love with the hands wide open, love
with the doors banging on their hinges,
the cupboard unlocked, the wind
roaring and whimpering in the rooms
rustling the sheets and snapping the blinds
that thwack like rubber bands
in an open palm.

It hurts to love wide open
stretching the muscles that feel
as if they are made of wet plaster,
then of blunt knives,
then of sharp knives.

It hurts to thwart the reflexes
of grab, of clutch; to love and let
go again and again. It pesters to remember
the lover who is not in the bed,
to hold back what is owed to the work
that gutters like a candle in a cave
without air, to love consciously,
conscientiously, concretely, constructively.

I can’t do it, you say it’s killing
me, but you thrive, you glow
on the street like a neon raspberry,
You float and sail, a helium balloon
bright bachelor’s button blue and bobbing
on the cold and hot winds of our breath,
as we make and unmake in passionate
diastole and systole the rhythm
of our unbound bonding, to have
and not to hold, to love
with minimized malice, hunger
and anger moment by moment balanced

Marge Piercy, To Have Without Holding

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