In a previous post I started to explore connections between Centre Edge work and the inreasing interest in meditation. In this post I continue that thread exploring its relationship to mindfulness. In particularly I suggest some ways in which Centre Edge approach might usefully highlight aspects of mindfulness practice that are not always strongly emphasised. I would be very interested in comments and responses.
Centre Edge can highlight aspects of mindfulness that may otherwise be missed
There is plenty to be welcomed about the growing interest in mindfulness in popular culture. We are a speedy, often anxious and neurotic culture, increasingly surfing very superficial surfaces of life – through fast paced, 24 – 7 consumption of digital media, and the endless distractions of a consumer based society that requires us, above all, to keep consuming, to maintain dissatisfaction and the search for ‘better’ in order to sustain the idea of ‘growth’.
Leaving the political critique aside for a moment (!) many people experience a deep need to slow down, to settle, to learn how to ‘be’ as well as to ‘do’. Mindfulness as a translation of and clinically tested approach to traditional Buddhist meditation, hits a rich seam of interest in our culture right now, and is certainly valuable. The problems that can arise, such as they are, are less to do with mindfulness per se – and more to do with the difficulties of translating a highly developed system of mind training, into contemporary language for an audience who may seek the benefits of these practices, without necessarily wishing to dive deeply into underlying principles and philosophical foundations. Mindfulness is presented as a secular, solution focused, and on that basis can be a relevant and useful approach to many modern ills.
However, because of the imbalance in our culture – our focus on doing, on ambition, on reaching goals, success and buying into a deep seated notion of progress, it can be the case that mindfulness unintentionally ends up buying in or becoming part of the ‘self help / personal development’ mind set. A tool to fuel our pursuit of upwards and onwards, of becoming better people – however we interpret that. So while mindfulness can, and indeed does, bring calm, groundedness and confidence, it is important to say that traditionally meditation has never really been taught with these things as goals. Rather they have always been by products, things that may happen along the way, as part of a deeper commitment to exploring the truth of ones being – the truth of one’s mind and world.
But as T S Eliot famously reminds us, mankind (sic) can only bear a little reality. Truth itself is inherently healing, but it can also be rather painful. Truth does not sooth ego – truth invariably reveals that there is a much bigger game going on than our personal egoic hopes and fears.
Including the totality of experience:
This is where Centre Edge can be an extremely useful way of deepening basic insights arising from mindfulness practice. It can be a way of illuminating just why mindfulness must eventually become mindfulness of the entirety of our experience – our rage, anger, miserliness, resentment and depression just as much as our calm, our confidence or our clarity.
The potential danger in how modern culture may currently interpret mindfulness, is that it becomes in some way about controlling thoughts, emptying the mind of thoughts or developing more positive thoughts. It becomes about ‘getting something out of it’. Again, it is possible, that in some genuine way any of those things can arise as by products of mindfulness practice. The problem is, that ambitious and goal oriented folk that we (typically) are, if we allow our meditation or mindfulness practice to be driven, however subtly by those sorts of goals, we run the risk of repressing, judging, or trying to avoid so called ‘negative’ aspects of our experience. Our mindfulness may then become, unwittingly, a way of continuing the basic division and fragmentation of our minds and experience – into (in this case) what we judge as good and bad qualities.
Jung makes this point in regard to the material that we are not able to bring into conscious awareness and which must then reside in the Shadow.
The Jungian therapist and Buddhist teacher Rob Preece has much that is useful to say about this connection in his excellent books. Essentially – through his own experience early on in his life as a meditator, and as an experienced therapist, he notes the same tendency for what John Welwood calls ‘spiritual bypassing,’ using meditation to avoid our real experience rather than to fully face into it.
How can Centre Edge help with this?
In line with its origins in the Tibetan Buddhist system, Centre Edge approach continually draws attention to the fact that all experience – however we may label it, is of the same essential taste, arising, appearing and disappearing within the sphere, the basic space, of our experience. Within that simple, but powerful and provocative view of things, any judgement we have, any notions that this is better than that, is also simply to be regarded as another appearance within the overall sphere of the mind’s display. This is easy to say and not at all easy to do – that is where practice comes in!
But the basic starting point, the ‘view’ as meditators would say, is never about trying to control or tidy up the mind so that some aspects of our natural energy or thought pattern are removed (forcefully or otherwise) from the totality of experience, or moved to more convenient positions. The practice of Centre Edge, the path of the warrior as some have called it, is simply to learn to rest with awareness and precision, in the centre of the sphere of awareness, in which all things can, and do, appear.
This, so it seems to me, ends up having all the positive by products of mindfulness. Over time, the mind does, often, become apparently clearer calmer and lighter. But this happens precisely through cultivating a simple gesture of basic openness to whatever arises, never by trying to control, shepherd or negate the basic truth of whatever is manifesting.
The raging bull in the field:
There is an old analogy sometimes used to illustrate this.
A farmer has a bull – a big, vicious brutish animal. He tries every which way to tether the beast – to discipline it, to cajole, entice, or divert it. But to no avail. Everything he tries to do just wears him out more while enraging the bull to greater and greater frenzy.
The solution? Just give the bull a big enough field to run around in, and let it do its thing. Eventually, with enough space, the bull will settle. In its own time, in its own place, of its own accord.
Cultivating the capacity to rest in the centre of the sphere awareness is like expanding the fence of the field, allowing the space of a vast field in which all the bull (sic!) of our lives can just do its thing.
I am not sure if this sounds similar or different to mindfulness approaches other people have been introduced to. I’d be interested to hear comments. To my mind it points in a similar direction but is imbued with a different taste. Within the Centre Edge sphere of awareness, nothing ever escapes the field, but then again, we don’t need to do anything much about it either.