The Studio of Eric Valosin

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

On Mindfulness: Detachment, Social Justice, and Meeting God

As I've embarked on a Lenten quest to reacquaint myself with practices of spiritual and physical self-care, I've taken up an experiment in mindfulness. As I heard testimonies to its mental health benefits and recounted my own previous successes, I began pondering why mere mindfulness (watching your own thoughts) should lead to overall calmness and assurance at all. (For a great video on mindfulness meditation that sparked this all, see my G+ post here [if that doesn't work, see the original post here]) As a relative novice in the field, I'd love to hear any thiughts of those more deeply entrenched in contemplative practices. However, neophyte that I am, I had a simple epiphany: it occurred to me that mindfulness transforms us because it is an exercise of acceptance.

At least in my case (and in others, I've been told), eventually one finds that it's nearly impossible to truly control or empty all your thoughts. And so it becomes less an exercise of control and more one of learning to embrace a certain lack of it (which paradoxically is a major gain of it). When we recognize we cannot control that which we feel like we most aught to be able to (our own thoughts), we by necessity begin to watch, accept, and even love their uncontrollable eccentricities. How much more then will that attitude translate to things over which we already know we have little control anyway (events, people, and circumstances outside our minds). The internal dialogue translates to a general, external attitude of radical acceptance.

This is the "detachment" (abgescheidenheit) mystics like Meister Eckhart preached, or the detachment (gelassenheit) Martin Heidegger said allows things to even show up as things at all, phenomenologically. It's not a lack of love or passion for things, but a rather a true acceptance of things as they are, even when we can't control them; even when they happen to be in our own mind. Detachment from control, judgment, and preconception, to simply let things be things.

So what of social activism? Does this acceptance mean we can't change things? Can't right injustices? Far from it. It means our actions are fueled not out of bitterness and disgust (contempt for a thing as it is), but out of hope and love for what could be (acceptance of a thing and it's potentials). We see a wrong, accept it as what it is (a wrong), also accepting our own emotions and desires as what they are, and then choose our actions in order that the thing as it is might become a better thing. It's a delicate distinction that gives a sort of meta-level perspective that should allow us to operate from a more rational, patient, assured, persistent place (especially as it helps us accept our own shortcomings as we try and fail and try again; as one Zen master put it, even repeatedly failing to have a Zen experience can be a Zen experience!). It is in this way that Eckhart asserts that Contemplation is not a quiet, static, internal state but a lively, active event that permeates our daily lives.

This, by the way, is the only way to truly encounter God in any mystical sense - for only when we accept God for what God is - on God's own terms - letting God be God (even when that's unfathomable and uncontrollable), will God show up as God at all.

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