“One of the extraordinary things about liberation is that you do not feel the need to control things when you’re free, because the illusory nature of control becomes clear to you.”
Sometimes it is hard to write in English when you’ve been talking to your great-grandmother on the phone but she is also your niece, and in her language there are no separate words for time and space. In her kinship system every three generations there is a reset in which your grandparents’ parents are classified as your children, an eternal cycle of renewal. In her traditional language she asks you something that translates directly into English as ‘what place’ but actually means ‘what time’, and you reluctantly shift yourself into that paradigm, because you know it will be hard as hell to shift back out of it again when you go back to work. Kinship moves in cycles, the land moves in seasonal cycles, the sky moves in stellar cycles and time is so bound up in those things that it is not even a separate concept from space. We experience time in a very different way from people immersed in flat schedules and story-less surfaces. In our spheres of existence, time does not go in a straight line, and it is as tangible as the ground we stand on.
Tyson Yunkaporta, Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World
In The Sound of Music, Fraulein Maria sang, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start, when you read you begin A B C…” In practicing mindfulness, start at the very beginning too. Go back to kindergarten, or preschool. Begin with not knowing anything. When you take away everything that you know, you are left with awareness, breathing and compassion. The very beginning of the rest of your life is now. That is always where you begin a mindfulness practice.
The reason that it is important to practice mindfulness is that it helps you to train you mind to feel better. Most people begin a mindfulness practice because they are suffering. Pain can be located in the body, but suffering is located in the mind. Attending to your mind will help you to work with and through your suffering.
If suffering brings you to a mindfulness practice, then you begin by being mindful of suffering. Suffering can be complicated, if you try to sort out all the things that contribute to your suffering, you could sort forever. To cut right through the complications, put all that down. Go back to the beginning, by bringing your mind back to the present moment. Now.
What reminds you of mindfulness is awareness. You are always aware of something. When you become aware of your awareness, you are being mindful. Often, what brings you to mindfulness is a painful feeling, suffering. The natural reaction to suffering is to try to get away from it. With mindfulness, you don’t try to get away from your suffering, you acknowledge it. When you notice suffering, recognize your awareness. Recognize your awareness of your suffering. When you notice that, you are present.
The next step is breathing. After recognizing your awareness, to remain with your awareness, breathe consciously. Breathing allows you to be in the present moment, grounded in your body and able to observe the activity of your mind. As you breathe and watch the activity of your mind, the activity will change. Although it will change anyway, when you attend to the change, you influence the change, with compassion.
Compassion is the attitude you adopt toward yourself as you breathe into your suffering. Recognize that you do not enjoy the feeling, and that you would be feeling differently if you could. Recognize that you do not deserve to suffer and that you would like to find a way to not suffer. Acting on compassion involves quieting your mind and looking into your experience to see if there is something you can do. If you notice something you can do. You can try to do it. Being aware of your feeling and your breathing as you activate compassion, is already compassionate action, but you may notice something else you can do too.
Meditation and mindfulness go together because meditation is the practice of awareness, breathing and compassion. You practice meditation when you are not acutely suffering. Practice when you have time to sit and rehearse the skill of focusing your awareness on the present moment. By practicing meditation, you strengthen the habit of attending to your experience, whatever it may be. When you regularly practice meditation you are more likely to turn to mindfulness in a moment of need, rather than turning toward avoidance habits.
The ABC’s of mindfulness, Awareness, Breathing and Compassion, are simple and always available to you when you need them. Now is the beginning. Now, you are aware, breathing, and feeling compassion. It is so simple you are already doing it. If you practice often, returning to the present, cutting through the complications of life with the simplicity of life, in good times and trying times, you will recognize the power of this practice. You will be able to grow through suffering and expand your compassion to the entire world.
“In early June 2020 I made my first pilgrimage by subway to the Brooklyn disaster morgue perimeter. I have returned every 10 to 25 days since then, on behalf of all our vigil-keepers across the country.
Standing quietly outside the chain-link fence, walking slowly from one
vantage point to another around the end of the pier, I bear witness to
the morgue trailers surrounded by abandoned warehouses and dilapidated hangars, cracked asphalt and roaring motors…
At one angle I can glimpse the Statue of Liberty out in the harbor beyond, her torch raised over the morgue trucks even during the hours that remain uncovered by our human vigil.”
More at Lion’s Roar
“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I
think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air,
but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we
don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black,
curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”