What makes the difference are the qualities of heart we bring to our everyday experiences. It’s a seeing, a knowing, that is utterly pure. A quiet aliveness without the stirring of expectation.
When asked the value of contemplative life, the 13th century Japanese monk Dogen said it allowed him to feel “an intimacy with all things.”
Mindfulness allows us to see a flower, or watch a sunset, or eat a mango, with nothing in between us and the experience. When you are intimate, you have momentarily gotten over yourself.
an additional dimension to life
Many practitioners report discovering an additional dimension to life, similar to what Emily Dickenson describes:
Life is so astonishing; it leaves very little time for anything else.
But at the start, far from fresh and marvelous discoveries, we discover our minds are actively judging, evaluating and comparing ourselves and our experiences.
The judging mind takes us far away from this intimacy Dogen spoke about. Although we may long for a deeper connection with the world, our conditioning to judge and react based on those judgments, gets in the way.
working with the judging mind
Intentionally working with the judging mind in meditation allows us to open up to whatever arises, and rest deeply in the mindful presence that judging blocks out.
When thoughts form an endless procession
I vow with all beings
to notice the spaces between them
and give the thrushes a chance.Robert Aitken, Zen Vows for Daily Life
Doing this allows brief gaps in the judging mind to be recognized. This gives us a chance to be simply alive to the world without the burden of habitually grasping for more of the pleasant, resisting the unpleasant, and checking-out by opening our phones or engaging in compulsive activities.
As Larry Rosenberg puts it, by practicing non-judgment we come into the space where we are “being with life, not just dealing with it.”
All the stuff that irritates, disappoints, or saddens us just needs to be given a seat at the table, to be received as if returning home from a long journey.
Tara Brach, Ph.D describes the magic of mindful attention this way:
Attention is the most basic form of love. By paying attention we let ourselves to be touched by life, and our hearts naturally become more open and engaged.
the feeling of really being alive.
Attention is the most basic form of love. By paying attention we let ourselves be touched by life, and our hearts naturally become more open and engaged.
As you pay attention to more and more aspects of your everyday life, you will see progress. As Joseph Campbell once noted, it is not so much the meaning of life that we want, but the feeling of really being alive.
We get little tastes of this when we notice the hues of colors in a sunset, the feel of your partner’s hand as you walk on the beach, or the sensations of eating a bagel and finishing it with a hot cup of tea, of playing with dogs, or watching birds.
As the late Zen teacher Toni Packer observed:
We rarely contact this simple moment. So used to constant input and excitement, we lack fine-tuning into all the subtleties of this instant, the ability to register a quiet aliveness without the stirring of expectation.A Quiet Aliveness
These are all natural, everyday happenings. What makes the difference are the qualities of heart our practice of mindful attention can bring to these experiences.
It’s a seeing, a knowing, that is utterly pure. It’s without thought, without associations. It’s nonverbal, completely intuitive. Some say it is pre-verbal.
In these precious moments, we give the thrushes a chance, as Robert Aikten would say.
And perhaps …
register a quiet aliveness without the stirring of expectation.
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