… we imagine that we are awake, that we are conscious: of course, you’ll say, we’d have to be awake and conscious to make sense of what we are reading right now.
Not so: we are asleep. Or at least you were till you started reading this and then you woke up a little for a second or two because you were challenged about something you take for granted—something we all take for granted: that we are awake and conscious of the world around us.
But are we really conscious—focussed on the potential in all things all the time?
No! We forget ourselves and simply merge with what we imagine is going on around us, safe in the presupposition that it all takes care of itself. Till there’s a ‘Greek Crisis’—then we wake up for a couple of moments, especially if we gamble on the Stock Market being able to help us out… Then they put us to sleep again by making the ‘Greek Crisis’ into a news bulletin habit.
But for a second or two back then you were awake because startled out of sleep and shoved into what one could call True Consciousness which is ‘seeing things as they really are’ rather than through the coloured & colouring spectacles of prior belief, habit, resignation, antagonism, refusal…
My analytical, sceptical, good friend down in the village will leap on such a concept and ask, “What is ‘true’? How can you possibly know when something is true and when it isn’t? Since it’s the case that we can always be mistaken, how can we know that we know when we see things as they really are?”
To persist: True Consciousness is probably akin to the Buddhist notion of Mindfulness, which is the English translation of the Pali word sati. It’s important to enter into the idea that Sati is not a thing but an activity. So we can… make the decision to ask… —What do we have to do to achieve mindfulness?
It’s an experience that goes beyond words—so these words, any words, in themselves, are unlikely to get very close to the reality of what’s called ‘Mindfulness’. But what words can do is to wake us up for a short time: because of words, pale shadows of reality though they are, you are in a state of mindfulness right now, startled and focussed for a precious moment!
Well, maybe… And anyway, why bother? My analytical, sceptical, good friend down in the village would say that what you can’t put into words is all hocus-pocus.
Ordinary Familiar Consciousness
…is a trap: it makes us think that we imagine that we see things or understand what’s going on when all that happens is that we are trapped inside the way things always are, and have been, instead of being able to step outside them to see them for what they are in an objective kind of way.
We could take it in turns to notice what happens when we first become aware of something— anything, for practice, the computer screen, whatever’s outside the window, what you are wearing: in the instant just before we conceptualize the thing, just before we name it, before we identify with it, there is a fleeting instant of pure awareness. So we already know what Mindfulness is; it’s just that it all goes so fast and we are creatures of habit; being caught up in the ersatz world, we have forgotten how to notice things that go so fast.
Wherever you are, try it now: catch the fleeting instant of pure awareness before you set about naming whatever it is you are experiencing. Your task is to practise non-naming and see how new life becomes when more important things are drained of their habitual ‘meanings’….
In the splittest of split seconds just as we focus our eyes on a thing, we can have a fleeting instant of mindfulness. And then, sad to say, we fall asleep and focus our mind and turn whatever it is into something with a name, package it conceptually and isolate it from the rest of existence. It takes place just before you start thinking about it—before your mind says, “Oh, it’s a computer!”
Mindfulness is very much like what you see with your peripheral vision as well as the hard focus of foveal vision. ‘I’s wide open.
As soon as we connect a new experience with what went before we let it become an old experience. We habitually label things and think that it’s useful to do so. Well, maybe it is if you want to avoid the intentions of an escaped hungry lion (“Blimey, here comes a lion…!”) but not when you want to make new sense of what’s happening around you in a coaching or teaching role, for example, or in wanting to be a decent parent or partner or friend.
Gurdjieff said there were three kinds of food: sausage & chips, fresh air and the very highest form of food which is the food of Pure Impressions—those which come to us untouched by prior associations of any kind. How do we acquire the Food of Pure Impressions?
Mindfulness, which is akin to Self-remembering in Gurdjieff’s sort-of-system, is when you just notice what is happening in the here & now, happening just in the way that it is happening without frames of reference, judgements, condemnation, surprise. Things happening in just the way they are happening, just as they are.
Just observe your self, your many selves, is what Gurdjieff says, without judgement or criticism. Examine all that’s there in what you like to think of as your ‘consciousness’. The knack is to observe everything there, even, or especially, when difficult states of being get in the way; when Fearful-I’s, Being-depressed-I’s, Shameful-I’s, Exhausted-I’s keep jumping up and down inside us hoping for a bit of attention, as they do.
We can’t examine these parts of our self when we pretend they don’t exist; in fact, because they always have some kind of positive intention for us we ought to acknowledge them and be grateful. Whatever experience we may be having, in mindfulness we just say, “Ah, yes, I see…!”
Being in Mindfulness is an Impartial State of Being
…neither infatuated with the good things of life nor rejecting the bad; no clinging to the pleasant, no fleeing from the unpleasant. It’s a coming to rest at the bottom of the pendulum swing, gathering energy for being in the present.
In the present moment there need be no thinking. Thinking, labelling, having opinions, losing your self in memories or worries, or ambition takes you out of the present and drops you back in the past or propels you into the future. The present moment is an emptiness that contains all potential. Being aware—just being aware (of the labels, the memories, the concerns, the opinions, of ambition & desire & amplitude)—that is mindfulness. Letting the thoughts roll round the memories, the concerns and the ambitions is loss of mindfulness: “Oh how I wish…!” “When will I ever…?” “I am consumed by guilt…” There is a difference between ‘being aware’ and ‘thinking’. Unfortunately, thinking, ratiocination—letting one’s thoughts run on—is our normal state.
When my analytical, sceptical, good friend down in the village objects, saying that we can never do without thinking, he has already stepped out of the present moment and into Thinking-I, Argumentative-I. All our ‘I’s except one, have a dynamic that perpetually propels us from past to future.
There is a Meta-I
Meta-I stands outside space & place & time. It can teach you how to get there.
Being in mindfulness is outside the ordinary scope of what happens when we find our selves locked in Multiple Selves. In mindfulness, the experience of extreme pain, for example, is just a sensation, an experience that you simply observe happening. “There is a pain!” not “I have a pain!” Not even “I am in pain!” In Mindfulness one attaches nothing extra to experience; it just happens. “I have a pain but the pain does not have me…” That way the pain and the self are two separate events. That way the self rises above pain and moves into another world. Meta-I’s world. It soon gets back on its motorbike.
When my analytical sceptical friend in the village objects that there can be no observation without a frame of reference, without distortion, that there can be no such thing as objectivity, he is stuck in a world that supports the notion of the dichotomy of Observer-I and Conceptualising-things-observed-I; thinker & thoughts, feelings identified with things-felt.
Being in Mindfulness is Simply Watching What Goes On
…you just sit back and observe the passing show, physically, mentally, emotionally, and in spirit, whatever that might be for you. Just being aware of beginnings, middles and ends. Feelings, reactions and events. In our selves and in others.
Thus you achieve an awareness of being at one with the universe, inside you and without. As an individual ‘I’ am held in suspension by innumerable webs of being, a hologram poised in all the things that happen, animated by events, a virtual being at the non-existent intersection of things past present and future, all worlds, all sounds and sights.
Such a complex web; so simple the outcome.
Walt Whitman, Arch Loafer, Sings it All
...Whoever you are! motion and reflection are especially for you,
The divine ship sails the divine sea for you.
Whoever you are! you are he or she for whom the earth is solid and liquid,
You are he or she for whom the sun and moon hang in the sky,
For none more than you are the present and the past,
For none more than you is immortality.
Each man to himself and each woman to herself, is the word of the past and present, and the true word of immortality;
No one can acquire for another—not one,
Not one can grow for another—not one.
The song is to the singer, and comes back most to him,
The teaching is to the teacher, and comes back most to him,
The murder is to the murderer, and comes back most to him,
The theft is to the thief, and comes back most to him,
The love is to the lover, and comes back most to him,
The gift is to the giver, and comes back most to him—it cannot fail,
The oration is to the orator, the acting is to the actor and actress, not to the audience,
And nobody understands any greatness or goodness but their own, or the indication of their own.
I swear the earth shall surely be complete to him or her who shall be complete,
The earth remains jagged and broken only to him or her who remains jagged and broken.
I swear there is no greatness or power that does not emulate those of the earth,
There can be no theory of any account unless it corroborate the theory of the earth,
No politics, song, religion, behavior, or what not, is of account, unless it compare with the amplitude of the earth,
Unless it face the exactness, vitality, impartiality, rectitude of the earth.
In summary (beware!)
- Being in Mindfulness reminds you of what you are supposed to be doing at this very moment. Just like self-remembering… It becomes a good habit, constantly bringing you back to yourself without thinking about it.
- In Mindfulness we notice how trapped we are in old patterns. The very act of noticing is a cue; it can be harnessed to free us. It can be as easy as just noticing what we have neglected to notice. Mindfulness has a light, clear, energetic flavour. It smells like the sea. You have to find this out for yourself and find your own words to describe the experience. The discovery is to the discoverer and comes back most to you—it cannot fail.
- Being in mindfulness adds nothing to what we experience. All this effort is about losing thought, losing ideas & concepts, shedding worries & fears & fantasies. Ouspensky said that the Fourth Way was not about learning new things but about getting rid of all the old things.
- Being in Mindfulness we observe how we have imprisoned ourselves in one exclusive way of looking at things and how we have learned to sever our connection with the Whole.
- All conditioned things are in themselves transitory. Everything changes. It’s all systemic.
- Mindfulness enables us to climb into the system and be aware of it.
But beware of the words… They trap you back into thinking… When ‘Mindfulness’ remains just a word then it is not.