It’s hard not to feel a sense of control when we can all notice that there are choices we make every moment of every day. Perhaps it’s inevitable that we’re fooled again and again into seeing a world where there is an ‘I’ that makes decisions in response to the everyday situations that arise.
And looking at where we find ourselves, for good or for bad, we also feel a sense of responsibility; ‘I got myself here, my actions led to these outcomes.’
This is all part of being tangled up in the ever changing content of a life story. That’s not a judgement, it’s just the way it is. We see life through this personal lens we’ve grown accustomed to, and much like a dull background noise, for the most part we don’t hear it at all, it moves beyond our awareness – until it stops. Then we awaken.
At that point we have the opportunity to see life very differently. Looking again at the question of control, we see that there are habits and tendencies that condition choices, we see that thinking arises, we see that there is an ‘I’ thought in the midst of this. We see actions and movements as part of this ever-changing whole that is the moment. But now we also see that it’s the minds tendency to create patterns that takes these basic ingredients and makes of it an ‘I’ that chooses this or that and apparently has control over a set of circumstances.
We see these separate parts and the way the mind operates to bind them into a pattern labelled ‘self’, no more real that the canals on Mars ‘observed’ by the early astronomers, the forerunner of may fictions about civilisations there that only existed in the imagination.
We only arrive at the point of being able, in the moment, to see the elements that create the illusion of a separate ‘I’, this sense of ‘self’ by being aware and mindful in the moment. It might be easy to argue that in fact we’re all aware in the moment; that we’re all really awake, but in practice we’re mostly only awake to thought.
Conditioned from early childhood, we spend so much of our time immersed in the content of the thinking mind that we often mistake its stories and commentaries for reality. A tendency to worry about an imagined future can cause us sleepless nights, a repetitive memory about a past event can distract us for hours on end; we can walk through our towns and countryside so wrapped up only in thought that we rarely notice our surroundings, beyond the barest need to navigate to our destination.
But thought is only one small part of this human experience. Being more fully awake in the moment we begin to realise ever shifting ‘weather’ of the mind states, the feelings and energies that arise in this form, and even their location, and ‘colour’. We notice how thoughts condition feeling and feelings can trigger thoughts.
At this point we’re already some way away from believing in the content of thought and so the sweet air of freedom from the tyranny of this narrow view can at last be breathed. We can become more mindful of this form, of its posture, physical sensations, appetites, and how these link in with feelings and thoughts.
Lastly through meditation or through the presence of mindfulness there can arise modes of awareness that are none of these physical things, and transcend all words and descriptions. It’s not something we can make happen, it’s something we allow to happen naturally; another aspect of the moment, not to be attached to or chased after.
At some point we notice through our looking that this separate self we always believed in isn’t real; was never real, and for the first time we access the formless and see clearly how it is. This isn’t the end of anything and in fact in many ways it’s not even that important. Freedom doesn’t come from knowing this, it comes from seeing how it is in the moment, from the open awareness that led to this realisation.
And so mindfulness to what is is fundamental to any who wish to be fully awake and see in the moment. It is a gentle practice that leads us out of the habitual tendency to dwell in thought, to embrace the wider experience of the moment. It seeks nothing, it requires nothing, it attaches to nothing, it simply receives.
Ally this with an open heart and the practice of generosity and there arises in this receiving a warm and peaceful wellbeing.
Not all strong thoughts can be detached from and set aside straight away. Some have become so ingrained in our habits of thinking that it takes time for them to fade to the point where we can get a clear perspective on them. The stepping back and seeing gained from this perspective is the arising of freedom. In the end thought is recognised as simply a self-important commentary, not that interesting, quite repetitive, and only the very poorest refection of the real – that which can be seen as it is arising as the moment.
So rather than creating and attaching to thoughts about how we would like it to be, we instead set aside expectation in favour of intention. Expectation is the imagined destination we may or may not reach. Intention is the direction we set for out journey. Intention is rooted in the moment and arises from clear seeing and an open heart. Expectation is rooted in thought and leaves us at the mercy of whether the imagined eventualities we created come to pass.
It takes effort to become mindful, it requires practice. Meditation and mindfulness support each other, the former setting aside time to look more closely, the latter tuning us in to what is here right now, in form, in feeling, in thought. It’s really all very simple. And we start now.