On being less full of it

Listen to anyone offering lifestyle advice these days and you will learn that to be successful at anything, you need to be mindful. This can’t be a casual thing either. You need to regularly practice mindfulness. Being mindful will help you to become present and grounded and perhaps afford you better boundaries. Soon, you’re on a quest to find your true authentic self and become connected with your inner warrior. Before you know it, you’re buying a $75 prayer candle that smells like Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina.

Muriel Rukeyser is not impressed.

Being mindful is exactly why we’re constantly distracted and overloaded. There’s simply too much to take in. We are drinking from a metaphysical fire hose. Our minds are boundless repositories of junk, like other people’s opinions, which is why we often feel stuck. There’s simply no room for anything new. If we seek insight and inspiration, we don’t need fullness, we need emptiness.

Being mindful leaves no room for inspiration, because the mind is occupied with everything that is happening right now. And with apologies to Eckhart Tolle, “now” is not that special. It’s the collapsed singularity of the past and future. It’s a show about nothing.

Mindfulness is usually equated with being present. ‘Present’ is how we answer a 3rd grade teacher’s roll call. It’s an acknowledgement that we are here to do the minimum. This is different from the intentional act of showing up. That is, bringing curiosity and joy to the conversation. When we’re not mindful, we’re open to new ways of perceiving and experiencing things. This leads us to question our reality, which isn’t about the present. It’s woven from our dreams of the future and stories from our past.

Mindfulness originates with a quest for spiritual enlightenment. It comes from a perceived lack – that we are missing something. I went through this in my early twenties, and studied in Sri Lanka, even to the point of taking vows and living in a monastery. Part of this quest involved learning Vipassana meditation, which is focusing on the breath and letting thoughts come and go without attachment. What I found through this was a kind of stillness where insight could occur.

At its heart, this practice is about emptiness. By letting go of the wanting mind, the judging mind, we are free to experience the world as it unfolds. There is nothing that needs to be added or accomplished. The mind goes from being a bucket to being a mirror, which holds nothing but reflects everything.

I continue this practice of mindlessness until today. It is the daily emptying of the lint trap in my head, which stubbornly catches a maddening chorus of cartoon voices, show tunes and TV jingles from the early 1970’s. Mindlessness is the opposite of mindfulness. It is an empty-headed approach to life.

I am a mindless idiot, and that’s not just my wife talking. I am absolutely fine with having no idea what’s going on. My best ideas come from having nothing on my mind. In this state, it’s like hearing the universe ask a question. And that questions is, “Who wants cake?”

When the universe asks a question, the appropriate answer is always ‘Yes’. We may be getting in shape for beach season, trying and failing to cut back on sugar or following some sort of cultish gluten-free lifestyle, but the truth is: no one doesn’t want cake. Our true authentic self wants it. Our transcendent Buddha nature definitely wants a bite. Somewhere along the way, we created an image of our self, and that self is sad. Sad because it doesn’t get to eat cake. It doesn’t feel worthy, has body dysmorphia and unrealistic expectations for itself. It cares a lot what other people think and can’t separate itself from it’s idea of itself.

Mindlessness allows the self an opportunity to take the constant feedback hum of awareness and drop the volume to zero. The observer and the observed just become observation. I don’t believe that putting on the muzak of daily affirmations or gratitude makes a difference here. The mind doesn’t need more #blessed hashtags or positive feelings. It needs a purge valve.

And near us is our love:
no forced contempt, no refusal in dogma, the close
of the circuit in a fierce dazzle of purity.

–Muriel Rukeyser