The practices that now go under the heading of mindfulness are not new but they have taken on a special relevance as we have become more and more conscious of stress.
Early in the twentieth century William Davies wrote a poem that became famous...
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
Nowadays many people feel that they never have time to stand and stare, and if they do somebody else may well criticise them for doing so.
Of course, it is not absolutely essential to live life under such pressure, but it is the common culture. We pursue economic growth in terms of faster and faster turnover, which does not necessarily imply any real increase in genuine wealth or quality, but only a more frenetic existence. Davies himself was a drop out. He lived a hobo life, not unlike a traditional wandering Buddhist friar. He would probably not have seen the sense in adopting "mindfulness exercises" in order to cope with greater levels of stress - he would have asked why we are generating such stress in the first place.
Nonetheless, the simplest forms of mindfulness accord with his advocacy of taking at least a little time, now and again, to stop and stare. This is not unlike the counsel my mother gave to me in her last days - "Do take time to smell the flowers, dear." - a very sound and deeply caring piece of advice.
Thich Nhat Hanh used to advocate a practice at his centre at Plum Village, by which, whenever a bell sounded, be it the temple bell, the telephone, or whatever, people stop and breath consciously for three breaths before continuing with whatever they were doing. He then gradually developed the notion of presenting the whole range of Buddhist practices as "mindfulness training". In this way he was able to get over the resistance that many of his Western students had to such things as ethical injunctions: they would resist moral rules, but when the same rule was presented as a mindfulness training it became acceptable. In his way, mindfulness became a useful vehicle for spreading the Dharma, even if somewhat at the cost of losing the more precise meaning of the word.
In Buddhism there are said to be two basic categories of meditation, shamatha and vipassana. The simplest translations of these two terms are, respectively, "stop" and "look". "Stop and look" is very close to "stand and stare". If we can at least punctuate our day with moments when we stop and look, we find, at the very least, that the built up of tension will be less and we shall deal with the matters before us in a calmer frame of heart and mind. Such simple exercise is not a solution to all the problems of the world, but it is a modest contribution to a calmer happier life.
I have just arrived from Bilbao, in Spain , where Dharmavidya gave us this workshop: "From Mindfulness to Heartfulness". It was a very valuable experience,many aspects to think about, a lot of encounters to feel... With Dharmavidya many things that you do not expect can happen and I feel great sense of gratitude when I notice that my walls have been softened and my structures and systems have been loosened in a certain way. Thank you Dharmavidya.
I think that that practice of "stare and look" can help us in many ways. Certainly it can reduce our stress, and I think it is so because , in that particular moments, we are capable to appreciate those subtle and vital things that everyday we usually take for granted like "the scent of flowers, or the sky, our breath, the sun...In that appreciation we become more alive and then we can go on with our lives in a healthier way.
I wrote that earlier, but it seems to have some relevance to the topic.
Yes, thank you, while you were posting that, I was posting this: http://eleusis.ning.com/profiles/blogs/on-being-liberally-dogmatic
which has a similar line of argument.
Attila Mislai said: I wrote that earlier, but it seems to have some relevance to the topic.