Mindfulness is an Act of Love
Without Mindfulness, We Slowly Die
Sounds pretty dramatic, right? And deadly serious too.
Well, let me illustrate my point by talking about this notion in Buddhist traditions of “Wise Effort.” In some instances, when talking about the Noble Eightfold Path, it is often referred to as Right Mindfulness.
What does effort even mean? Mostly, we equate effort with struggle, ambition, trying to get somewhere, hard work.
But wise effort is different from how we might normally consider it. It’s simply the effort not to be lost in our plans to try to get somewhere and instead just to be present with the way things are. Which in turn, is why it is referred to as Right Mindfulness.
This is what mindfulness actually means. The Sanskrit word for mindfulness is smriti which means “to remember.” Mindfulness then is remembering to come back to the present moment. Not to be mistaken for having a mind full of activity and chaos, quite the opposite.
This is one of the most valuable aspects of the practice of meditation. Meditation is not so much to train ourselves to notice our thoughts and return to a state of present moment awareness as it is about training ourselves to be ok with the way things are just as they are.
This is clearly not an easy task. As human beings we are conditioned to see something and almost immediately, pass judgement on or label what we’ve seen. Or at a minimum, we create an internal dialog about what we’re seeing.
But this effort to be present with the way things are is also an act of love.
It invites us to show up to life with an open awareness, with an open heart. It invites us to see what is true in our own bodies and the world around us. It’s about being present without the judgement or the need to label our experiences.
Becoming present with love is the gateway to freedom and liberation. Wise effort really asks us to show up to all the healing, care, and loving attention for ourselves. But it is also the idea of making the other present as well, be it the sky, the flower, our child, our employer.
Mindfulness offers us the chance to see one another deeply as well as then nourish the object of our attention.
If we aren’t fully present, everything is like some kind of a dream. Perhaps you notice this at the end of your day. If you stop to review your day, can you identify the moments in which you felt an honest and present connection to what you were doing or who you interacted with? Or did you instead simply glide through your day and all of your busyness and not really remember if you “landed” anywhere in particular?
Do you remember an encounter you had today with someone where you really heard what they were saying, felt what they were feeling, understood what they were trying to convey?
When was the last time you really connected and were present completely with your lover or your child? Perhaps you feel you know your spouse or child well. When you are in the car traveling together, you are lost in thought as you both travel to get somewhere. Maybe few, if any, words are spoken as you drive along. It’s almost as if you both exist separate and apart from one another, maybe even unconsciously taking one another for granted.
Thich Nhat Hahn would say that without mindfulness toward one another, each of us “slowly dies.” But with attention, it’s always possible for you to discover many new and wonderful things; perhaps his joy, hidden aspirations or talents.
“With mindfulness, your attention will water a wilting flower.” -Thich Nhat Hanh
One of the ways we can begin to nurture mindfulness is to tend to your body with love. Begin by asking “What does my body need?” Thank your body for keeping you going, for keeping you upright.
Healing awareness is what changes the body. If we pay attention to our body with loving awareness we can listen and respond to what our bodies need. Seldom do we stop to truly feel the aches and pains in our bodies, the grief or sadness of our emotions.
Put your hand on the places of your body that most need the healing. Send healing awareness to that part of your body with your hands.
Allow the pain in any part of your body to simply exist without resistance. Just notice and allow.
We never really notice ourselves. Bring loving awareness to your own body and notice its wrinkles, its extra pounds. Use this practice as a way to begin recognizing the very body you have and treasure it in all ways.
Use this same practice with your heart.
Our heart carries many different feelings and emotions. While things have certainly changed over the years with the introduction of mindfulness and yoga in some schools, for the most part, our educational system doesn’t really teach us about how to tend the heart. Instead, we are simply focused on the intellectual parts of ourselves.
One of today’s great spiritual leaders Jack Kornfield told a story once about an interview he did with his alma mater. They had asked him about how his college education had helped to inform and direct his spiritual life. His response was that his college education had only given him half an education, the intellectual half only.
If someone hurts you, perhaps you become angry but maybe you’ve never understood how to really handle the anger so you hang on to it for years. Every time you think of the situation that caused the anger or the person who hurt you, it’s as if the incident happened in the recent past because it’s fresh. No one really teaches us how to handle our emotional selves.
So, here are a few practices you could try:
Recognize and name the anger, allow it to be there. If we just see it and allow it, the emotion, in this case anger, will literally last about 15 seconds then it will change to sadness, or fear, or regret. Maybe it then turns into self-pity or revenge. If we are present and truly allow ourselves to hold all of the emotions – longing, love, creativity, boredom, sadness, we may have a completely different experience of our emotions. We can bring loving-kindness to ourselves and all of our feelings and emotions. We can simply notice and allow them.
Practice naming the emotion: This is what loneliness feels like this. Locate where it resides in the body. Then identify where it resides in your heart. Allow it. This practice is not to change and fix the emotion but rather just to bring the attention of love to the emotion.
Practice becoming a field of love for others by practicing bringing loving-kindness to yourself. Practice not judging all of your feelings and instead, hold them in loving awareness. Laugh and bring joy, weep and release. Practice being present for it all.
Who we are is love itself.
Ponder what it means to be awake with love and to be present to love.
Engage in all of the relationships in your life. Relationships need more than anything loving attention. It’s what we all want. Bring loving attention to all of your relationships even in the difficulties.
The fundamental energy that brings understanding is loving-awareness.
Learn how to bring this loving awareness to your own body,heart and mind.
When we gaze with the eyes of love everything changes.
When we understand how to practice this, we begin to understand that this is how love works.
One little mantra you might use throughout your day is simply to ask yourself the question:
What would love have me do?