Mindfulness as a Spiritual Path
I view mindfulness holistically, by which I mean taking care of mind, body and emotions. ‘Right Mindfulness’ as originally taught by the Buddha is part of a ‘spiritual’ path that serves to nourish and heal us at all levels and depths of our psyche.
Spirituality means many things to many people and I am always seeking to deepen my understanding of what it means to me, in the context of my everyday life. I understand spirituality most simply, as connection. It is about connection with ‘self’, with ‘other’ and with ‘the Earth’. I use inverted commas because on one level these are separate entities and on a spiritual level they are not separate, that is, they do not exist independently. Everything is dependent on everything else, and we are all dependent on one another.
We can often see in our own lives how a series of events brought us to a certain point – ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – and how our own thoughts, actions and words, as well as the thoughts, actions and words of others, determine our experience.
When we don’t really see this, we can easily get ‘caught up’ in seeking to be independent, not realising the ultimate connection that suffuses the whole of life. Mindfulness is very much about realisng this interconnection and how it plays out daily in our personal life and in life as a whole. In this context, Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh has coined the phrase ‘Interbeing’. Like many spiritual teachers he seeks to show us the ‘oneness’ that defines life.
The spiritual path requires us to be responsible for our self knowing that will affect the whole. Mindfulness brings us into the here and now, into a deeper, kinder, more understanding relationship with our self, through simply following our breath, being aware of how we are walking on the Earth, how we pick something up, or put it down, how we eat, how we drink, how we speak, and how we take care of our self in general.
With the openness that mindfulness fosters, we are always learning, we are always students and each step is a new step, a new beginning. We leave our prejudices and preconceptions behind in order to come fully into the present and see what is really here in us and around us, to view life with the eyes of wonder and amazement, letting go of our cynicism and arrogance, and our pre-scripted notions of what is.
Mindfulness is not simply “paying attention, non-judgmentally in the present moment” as it is sometimes defined. Mindfulness is also openness, flexibility and connection, kindness, love and appreciation, all of which need to be underpinned by a strong ethical foundation that enables us to flourish in and through our mindfulness practice.
I have just en-joyed the weekend on retreat at Swarthmoor Hall in Cumbria connecting and contributing with a beautiful group of people all similarly invested in a mindful life. It has offered me a richness of insight into life and a sense of connection that is unsurpassed
Investing our time and energy in our personal ‘spiritual’ development is invaluable and in conventional terms, immeasurable. The [only] real metric for inner work is a happier life, defined by greater connection and contribution and the joy that brings. Joy is always the result of true, heartfelt connection, it can’t be purchased on-line (or anywhere else), try as we might!