Here I sit, wondering why I feel so anxious, so on edge. After all, I am reading through an extensive archive of mindfulness quotes on a reputable website for mindfulness practice. These are quotes written by sages, masters, gurus and coaches reminding me how to be calm, how to find serenity, inviting me to remain at peace, to honor the present moment. I should be walking this talk.
Instead, I find my jaw tightening and my brow furrowing. My head is starting to ache. The edges of my vision are darkening.
I take a moment to sigh out. I soften my gaze. Glance out the window at the sunlight on the treetops. Plant my feet firmly on the ground. Drop my shoulders. Ah, starting to feel better. I can breathe deeply again.
But wait…a faint tinge of panic bubbles up. The words in front of me are starting to blur…my logical thoughts are growing fuzzy. I need to hold on here, otherwise I may not get this right! I need to stay mindful. I have to stay mindful. I am responsible for being mindful. I –
I tighten the knot in my stomach so that I can read the words in front of me clearly. Get it together now, Sam. A few phrases on good mindfulness practice glare back at me.
“You only have to…”
“…make sure you…”
“…you just need to…”
“It would be wise to…”
So many commands that need to be executed. So many insights that need to be mastered. So many interpretations that need to be integrated.
So many mindful directives that I need to keep in mind!
And then the paradox reveals itself. I am here, seeking mindfulness but instead I am receiving mind-fullness. How can that be, when all these great teachers are offering me the best pearls of their wisdom? How can it be that immersing myself in the world that offers the thing that I seek seems to have taken me away from it?
I dig a little deeper, linger longer on the question.
Could it be…that mindfulness is not an activity to get right? Nor a skill to be perfected? Is it perhaps a fundamental state of being from which all activities and skills arise? Mindfulness doesn’t mind how, what, where, when, why or with whom. Mindfulness minds not at all. Ok, easy – just drop these thoughts that plague the mind. Another tremor of panic. Dropping thought requires dropping language, dropping culture, dropping society. How will I be taught this great state of being without language, without exchange? How will I know when I get it right?
Will I be left out, left behind, left wanting? I need to see how others are getting it right! And when I get it right, I need to explain to them how I did it. I then I need to tell them how to do it!
Another flood of realization…
Mindfulness can only be accessed privately, touched personally, and given permission to remain foregrounded. It can only rise up from within each person when there is sufficient space to do so. More truthfully, mindfulness IS simultaneously the space and the uprising – a mind-stilling spaciousness.
My vision clears.
I have been crowding my longed-for state of presence with words on presence. I have been hemming in my longed-for state of mindfulness with paragraphs on mindfulness.
And yet there it is, and has been all along – between the lines, behind the words, within the letters, below my thoughts. Within. Always within, even though I may use what is without to mirror it, echo it, reflect it.
The tension is subsiding. I close my eyes. Ah, there it is. I open my eyes. Ah, there it is still. Connection. Integration. The yoke of yoga. The bridging of states.
I can be with the many words now without getting ensnared. It is possible to dive into the maelstrom again without feeling groundless. I can be grateful for the wisdom of the masters without shadowing my own knowing.
I am simply window-shopping because I hold the key to my own source of mindfulness.
Only I will be able to wear the garment of mindfulness that I own. When I am cloaked in it, it will remain invisible to others – because they each carry their own. And how beautiful I imagine them to be.
Note from the writer: using words to describe, explain and share the intangible experiences of human existence has significant limitations. That is the power offered by the deep contemplation of non-representational art, and our primary motivation for sharing Artful Contemplation with the world. But that doesn’t mean grappling with words – reaching through their often finite, concrete, habitual usage into more infinite, fluid and open-ended contexts – is a futile business. It is an art, too – an art of using symbol, metaphor, tone, analogy, diversion, sub-text. It is a comical dance with the ineffable. And one that I seem destined to take part in. I would love to hear what other bloggers and writers have to say on this existential subject :).