BUDDHISM, MINDFULNESS, CHRISTMAS AND FAMILY

So. There I’ve been since last August, attending the occasional Mindfulness day – a few hours here, a day-long session there – with a small group of similar people from mostly the Kildare area. We are a motley group in that we all seem to be quite different from one another. Our teacher or mentor is a whizz – inspiring to listen to and observe, and everything he says makes absolute, beautiful sense. I’ve been reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyan Rinpoche and finding it wonderful, accessible and interesting. It has made me re-view my ideas on reincarnation. Over the last twenty or so years I’d more or less dissed the idea of coming back for a second or third go at living, often because some of the returnees who ‘remembered’ past lives always seemed to be glamorous Egyptian figures or Napoleon’s right-hand man. So to speak. Scepticism kicked in.

Nevertheless, I’ve been reading this material, listening to the mentor, then dipping in to Tich Naht Han’s ‘The Miracle of Mindfulness’. Thanks to these, my head has been swirling into its dream life of possibilties, I have had new hope and considered yet again the idea that much of the purpose of this material life has to do with slow purification, as we attempt to strip away ego-concerns in preparation for the next ‘stage’; I have been buoyed up by the idea that the kharmic actually does have meaning and that I have not been misled, despite the ongoing stereotyping of the idea of ‘kharma’. Now I know, that despite my meditations, despite the purchase of a low bench to support my back so that I don’t snap in two in the lotus position with my arthritic hips/knees; despite my regular attempts to pull back, be aware, do the three-minute breathing techniques that calm the mind, I AM STILL ONE HELL OF A LONG WAY FROM TRUE MINDFULNESS! How do I know? 

Let’s put it like this: my first day-long session was with the mentor back in August, during which eight participants practised such techniques as Slow Walking around his glorious summer garden, like something from the War of the Zombies as we deliberately slowed all physical movement to a point where, at times, it was initially difficult to balance.

Different people were attending for different reasons. There was the question of loss in some people’s lives, of bereavement. There was also the ongoing question of anxiety, depression, feeling over-squeezed by routine obligation which seemed to have a stranglehold on several of us. And there were one or two who are ongoing searchers, who have been studying and attending to mindful techniques for years.

I left that evening feeling fantastic. I was calm, positive, had already planned how my coming days might be interspersed by little nodules – gems, actually – of enlightenment and awareness as I would remind myself of my breathing, of being in the Now, of giving myself to the Moment, no matter what that ‘moment’ actually was.

But the minute I got in the door home, I hit a snag. Someone – I don’t remember who exactly, husband or daughter I suppose – asked something of me. It was something quite small and ordinary, along the lines of ‘Did you remember to …?’ The thing is, I snapped. Quick, sharp, like a piece of elastic, I zoomed into defensive mode, annoyed at the intrusion on my newly-found peace of mind, and retorted with a very unmindful comment. You could say it was disappointing. Slightly comical too now that I think of it. But downright the opposite of what I would have hoped for. Still, I reminded myself that this was my first foray into Mindfulness and that I still had a long way to go with mastering the technique. The Dali Lama himself, for heaven’s sake, remains on an ongoing path to perfection, does he not?

And so I pressed on, mostly enjoyably through the weeks. As it happened, I had plenty to occupy me mentally. I was aware of richness in my life, of the good fortune of being able to pursue an occupation I love and of also having ‘outside’ work in the world of human interaction. I felt grateful. For the month of September and into early October I think I existed in a blissful state of mostly non-anxiety. That’s unusual for me. I was putting it down to Mindfulness, rather than actual positive life changes, and that, I suspect, was my mistake. Because what I began to notice was that, reliably, after almost every lovely blast of an afternoon with the mindfulness group, I found it incredibly difficult to return to my ordinary life and to be in any way ‘mindful’. Ha! Before I knew it Christmas was looming on the horizon. It does loom for me, unfortunately. It is the season of being holed-up, in an over-heated house. Christmas is always a challenge. 

But I do realise now that I may be one of those people who is not capable of mindfulness. Or if so, only for the tiniest, most minuscule time-segments, a flicker of time really, a spark of awareness, and then it’s all vanished and yet again I am subsumed by the normal savaging of daily doings and dealing with myself, I am subsumed by my own hard-learned and earned techniques of camouflaging my moods and physical ailments, I am subsumed by trying to cope. I wonder if I will ever achieve mindfulness, that is, if I will ever succeed in being sufficiently detached and compassionate, in having enough stillness of being, to achieve the true awareness for which, deep down, I believe we all hanker.

Because when other people are present and their comments are challenging, sometimes aggravating, or when deafness makes communication sometimes difficult, it is really hard to be mindful, to live in the moment and not wish you could get the hell away from the situation. I think of Jean Paul Sartre’s sentence that ‘L’enfer, c’est les autres’ and nod my head. And yet, perhaps that hell is within me, I argue. It goes against every fibre in my pride-filled being to pull back, and give myself to being in the moment, quietly, as if that momentary awareness were the only thing that mattered in the whole of existence. It is very difficult to believe it matters, because the other side of me – where ego resides, but also where passion blossoms – wants to drive towards the complex, though perhaps in Buddhist terms UN-aware, but highly alert part of living. That surely is valuable and not to be dismissed: there may be a broader aspect to all this being in the moment, that in which awareness and enlightenment can also be achieved through the plan of art, the plan and adventure of one’s work, the active plan of wishing, dreaming, constructing, indeed the things of ambition, which are not to be disregarded even in the thick of the mindful.

I will persevere with mindfulness. I will persevere with Buddha and with darmakhaya, I will continue to make prayer to the oneness of existence and to the idea of enlightenment within and without of me. I know I’m in this for the long haul. 

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7 thoughts on “BUDDHISM, MINDFULNESS, CHRISTMAS AND FAMILY

  1. Mary, just read this. I loved it. I only have that spark of mindfulness myself and am suspecting that the spark is all I will get. But it’s better than no spark at all. And at least we both keep searching. XXX

      1. Mary, i came across this post looking for mindfulness groups in the kildare area. Is this group you talk about here still active? I have meditated on my own on and off for years, and have been looking for a meditation group in the Kildare area for a long time now to help me with my practice. If you guys still meet and the group is open to new members, i’d love to know more about it, or how to get in touch with them. Thank you 🙂
        I hope you are still persevering with mindfulness 🙂

      2. I don’t think I ever replied to your message Tonia. Apologies. No, I’ve let the meeting up with the other mindfulness people slip, although I do practice personally with Buddhist slow walking and that kind of meditation. The contact person is Dominic Cogan, you’ll find his name on any Mindfulness website. He’s an excellent teacher.

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