Recently the practice of ‘mindfulness’ came up in a conversation; the word is widely associated with a particular technique taught in a secular context to deal with stress, chronic pain and various behavioural problems. No doubt it has been beneficial to many people, but it is also a method with a spiritual dimension. It is specifically taught by several branches of Buddhism, and if one thinks about it, the effort to be aware is at the centre of every tradition.
The common malady in the world is lack of presence. A typical moment in the minds of many people is like sitting in a small boat on a heaving sea, surrounded by a rising and falling jumble of memories told and re-told through countless interpretations, whipped into activity by the changing winds of usually baseless speculations about the past, present and future, the whole seascape stretching away to infinity under clouds of doubt, anxiety and dissatisfaction that are only occasionally pierced by flashes of hope or happiness. It is needless to say that in such a condition a person is neither aware of what is really passing around them, nor are they conscious of their own inner reality, and the possibilities at their disposal. Therefore the wise have always taught methods of controlling the mind, first to ease the condition of life in this world, and only once that has begun to improve, to open the view to the greater reality within.
A recent post http://innercall.towardthe1.com/hazrat-inayat-three-exercises-and-the-light-of-truth/ from the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan gave a brief summary of three stages on the inner path: concentration, contemplation and meditation. Concentration in the Sufi understanding is, more or less, the same practice as mindfulness, with the possible addition of an ideal on which to focus. Mureeds are often given some image, some symbol, upon which to concentrate, so as to learn to hold the mind steady, and this is very similar to the technique of holding one’s awareness to the present moment. The object of concentration is chosen to suggest an aspect of the Divine, so that through focusing upon it, the student develops both the power to be present in the moment and also develops the Divine Ideal, without which it is very difficult to change one’s horizon.
What is often overlooked by the world is that our thoughts and feelings are alive, and we nourish them by our attention. Medical science is presently discovering that the communities of external and internal bacteria with which we live have a much more profound influence on our health than was previously suspected, but the same is true, and even more important, in the case of the community of thoughts and feelings that we harbour. In vol II of the Message series, in ‘Music,’ chapter XIII, Hazrat Inayat tells this story:
Once I met a lady who said she had been to many physicians for the complaint of neuritis. She was temporarily cured but it always came back, and she asked me for something that would help her. I said to her, ‘Is there anyone in the world whom you dislike, whom you hate, or whose action is troubling your mind?’ She said, ‘Yes, there are many people whom I dislike, and especially there is one person whom I cannot forgive.’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘that is the root of the disease. Outwardly it is a pain of the body; inwardly it is rooted in the heart.
It is by our awareness–call it concentration or call it mindfulness, no matter–and by our awakening to an ideal that our inner landscape begins to change, and our mind becomes home, so to speak, to thoughts of beauty which help us in countless ways.
And if one’s ideal becomes sufficiently living, and one’s ‘presence’ is truly present, one comes to the stage of contemplation, in which one is held by the ideal, instead of the reverse. Then, letting go of the need to participate in the chatter of the mind, resting in the eternal now, one can become aware of the constant radiance of the Divine. We say in our prayers, “Omnipotent, Omnipresent, All-Pervading,” and we ask that our hearts may be opened, “that we may hear Thy voice, which constantly cometh form within.” With this awareness, the prayers start to become not poetry but reality; without quite knowing how it happened, we may find that we walk through our day held in the embrace of the ever-present Divine Friend.