My main motivation throughout life was always a search for meaning; wanting to know the meaning of my experience. It’s what made me an avid reader, an ‘ex-pat’, and a life-long student. And of course I wanted to acquire specific skills and qualifications, but I’ve realized it is the process of getting them that counts, not the certificates and references that go with them. Which is why I am interested in mindfulness, and want to share my interest with others.
What I’ve discovered is that meaning arises in the present moment, from moment to moment. There is no ‘Meaning’ sitting out there, waiting to be attained. Meaning happens in the moment, and is appropriate to the moment – but of course you have to be here! That’s why the sages and enlightened ones talk about being in the Now. Because if the mind is busy all the time reliving the past, or trying to control the future, we miss the present – and the present is where it all happens. If we’re not here in the moment, everything we’re looking for is actually overlooked. We’re living in a dream, which has no solidity, no reality.
Being in the moment doesn’t mean having to forget the past. In fact, the more presence there is, the more the past can inform our understanding, as I recently noticed. Enquiring with a friend, a memory was triggered of a spontaneous experience about 20 years ago, at a workshop. I had felt like a blob, unstructured and almost formless, all I could do was observe what was happening. My teacher at the time later sent me a copy of a cartoon. It showed two cockroaches, standing beside the nozzle of a garden hose with a drop of water falling from it. One cockroach was describing its experience to the other. “There I was in the darkness, when suddenly there was a great whoosh! and a burst of light. And then I found myself here.” The title of the cartoon was ‘Cockroach enlightenment’. At the time, I thought it was a very funny cartoon – but it wasn’t until my recent enquiry that I fully realized the meaning of it!
Meaning is not fixed and rigid, because the true nature of things is a constant unfolding, moment to moment. It’s not black and white, and it is not at all chaotic, because everything is part of a unified whole –that butterfly in Timbuktu really is connected to a volcanic eruption in Iceland! And we get to watch it all unfolding from our own individual vantage point, moment by moment. Miraculous, really.
What has this got to do with mindfulness, you ask? Firstly, for those moments when we succeed in actually being in the moment, we’re aligning ourselves with reality. It’s not that it is always fun or enjoyable, but the fact that it is real is inherently fulfilling. It’s because it’s our life that it has meaning.
This is of course not to say that planning and preparing, or reviewing and analysing, are not useful. These are necessary and essential parts of life too. My experience is that these activities too benefit from being in the moment. More focused attention becomes possible when you become aware of the internal pushing and pulling that often starts when anxiety or doubt raises its head. It takes some time for the inner critic – as I’ve explored in my previous couple of blogs – to get the message that he (or she) is out of a job. That’s what can happen when you take the time to look more closely at your experience, and enquire into how your life got to be the way it is. And how it can change.
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