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Human beings do indeed possess a remarkable spectrum of consciousness, a vast rainbow of extraordinary potentials and possibilities…. Individuals can grow and develop through that entire spectrum, directly experiencing each of those “levels” or “colors” in the rainbow, resulting in a direct experience of spirit itself….
Your own basic awareness—and your very identity
itself—is without boundaries.
You cannot get any closer to that intelligence than by being aware of your own inner energy field—by feeling the aliveness,
the animating presence within the body….
When human beings become still, they go beyond thought.
There is an added dimension of knowing, of awareness,
in the stillness that is beyond thought.
Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness.
Awareness in and of itself is curative.
(Fritz Perls, Gestalt Therapy)
The mind itself is clear, lucid, and unobstructed.
Its nature is to simply know whatever is arising.
We don’t recognize this empty, open nature of awareness
because we get distracted and seduced.
In any given moment, we are either practicing mindfulness or, de facto, we are practicing mindlessness. When framed this way, we might want to take more responsibility for how we meet the world, inwardly and outwardly in any and every moment—especially given that there just aren’t any “in-between moments” in our lives.
The statements at the beginning of this article were made by people who have had direct experience with what they claim. They open for our consideration the possibility of access to a compelling dimension of ourself and our mind.
If, as the scriptures teach, the Light of the Lord Jesus Christ infuses, enlivens, and enlightens all Creation (D&C 88:41), including ourself, then most of us are daily looking at that Reality with eyes that do not yet “see.” William James (above) mentions that it is only “the filmiest of screens” that separates our ordinary consciousness from awareness of what Eckhart Tolle calls “that intelligence.”
The practice of mindfulness is the passage through the scrim leading to the greater dimension. The simplest way to begin to “see” or “feel” through this veil is by allowing oneself to dissolve into the simple feeling of being. This exercise puts us immediately into a spacious awareness. The more still we become, the deeper we go into our silence, the more the mind and senses expand. With practice, simply being aware that you are aware begins to unveil the living ocean of insight and Spirit. Uncovering the realities around us takes time and patience as we educate a different “sense.”
Taking hold of our mind through practice we gently hold it open to life as it unfolds. This is a shift from a primarily doing mode to a being mode, in which, again with practice, there is a shift from the anxieties of the everyday mind to a sense of connection to eternal realities. This more peaceful mind can be cultivated in regular sitting practice and also throughout our day. We can carry a present awareness with us in which a knowingness arises that this Ground of Being we find ourselves in is somehow related to who we have always been. The simple feeling of being is undeniably and inexplicably spiritual.
In fact these practices have specific therapeutic value. Clinicians find that people who suffer from depression and other emotional troubles are helped by slowing down and cultivating a compassionate awareness, a paying attention on purpose, non-judgmentally, to things as they arise within oneself and without.
One of these clinicians, Jon Kabat-Zinn, holds classes on mindful-based stress reduction at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He describes a roomful of people at the hospital lying motionless on the floor—for anywhere from ten to forty-five minutes. He says that they are practicing non-doing while they actively make an effort to remain aware from one moment to the next. It looks as though they are doing nothing, but it is “a very rich and complex nothing.” They are practicing mindfulness:
Another way to say it is that they are “practicing being.” For once, they are purposefully stopping all the doing in their lives and relaxing into the present without trying to fill it up with anything. They are purposefully allowing body and mind to come to rest in the moment, no matter what is “on” their mind or how their body feels. They are tuning in to the basic experiences of living [breathing, bodily sensations, senses, etc,]. They are simply allowing themselves to be in the moment with things exactly as they are, without trying to change anything….
The basic idea is to create an island of being in the sea of constant doing in which our lives are usually immersed, a time in which we allow all the “doing” to stop.
We are a doing culture, which has its value of course, but ultimately that way of life is incomplete without our learning the power of “being.” Mindfulness training leads not only to deeper relaxation and reduction of stress, but also a greater sense of wholeness. Relaxation of mind and body is not only a pleasant interlude in a busy life, but also a fundamentally spiritual state in which we allow the Lord to manifest Himself in us and through us.
In our culture we find resistance to such words as “meditation.” Dr. Kabat-Zinn clarifies:
Until recently the very word meditation tended to evoke raised eyebrows and thoughts about mysticism and hocus-pocus in many people. In part, that was because people did not understand that meditation is really about paying attention. This is now more widely known. And since paying attention is something that everybody does, at least occasionally, meditation is not as foreign or irrelevant to our life experience as we might once have thought….
If you start paying attention to where your mind is from moment to moment throughout the day, chances are you will find that considerable amounts of your time and energy are expended in clinging to memories, being absorbed in reveries, and regretting things that have already happened and are over. And you will probably find that as much or more energy is expended in anticipating, planning, worrying, and fantasizing about the future and what you want to happen or don’t want to happen.
He points out that the untrained mind deals randomly with negative thoughts and feelings. One of the main problems with letting our minds work this way is that we generate anxiety and other negative kinds of thinking and feeling without realizing what we are doing.
Dr. Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist and meditation teacher, writes about the power of mindfulness and its relationship to neuroplasticity, that is, the reshaping of the brain and mind:
Being mindful simply means having good control over your attention: you can place your attention wherever you want and it stays there; when you want to shift it to something else, you can.
When your attention is steady, so is your mind: not rattled or hijacked by whatever pops into awareness, but stably present, grounded, and unshakeable. Attention is like a spotlight, and what it illuminates streams into your mind and shapes your brain. Consequently, developing greater control over your attention is perhaps the single most powerful way to reshape your brain and thus your mind.
The mind is simply a neutral tool operating in a vast reality where all kinds of experiences, sublime and miserable, are possible in every moment. Unchecked negativity blinds us to the joy of our true nature and to the Spirit-infused world, while it creates our experience. A great deal of energy is wasted that could have been used to enhance our life.
In the next chapter, we will learn some exercises for developing mindfulness. But briefly, as we have seen, there are two basic kinds of meditation—allowing the mind to be at rest in alert spaciousness, and also that method where we ponder or repeatedly bring to mind specific, chosen ideas, such as a particular scripture or something we wish to plant permanently in ourself.
Mindfulness for Revelation
Our own Brethren have expressed the importance of setting aside time to ponder and meditate. Brigham Young describes his method of leaving the mind empty, waiting on the Lord’s will:
All I have to do is…keep my spirit, feelings and conscience like a sheet of blank paper, and let the spirit and power of God write upon it what he pleases. When he writes, I will read; but if I read before he writes, I am very likely to be wrong.
Others of the Brethren have also given direction on pondering and meditation, this time delving in our spirit into the meaning of passages or in a close look at our life—always with the intent to receive inspiration. Here is what they have to say:
- We are constantly reminded through the scriptures that we should give the things of God much more than usual superficial consideration. We must ponder them and reach into the very essence of what we are and what we may become.
- By pondering, we give the Spirit an opportunity to impress and direct. Pondering is a powerful link between the heart and the mind…. Pondering is a progressive mental pursuit. It is a great gift to those who have learned to use it.
- A friend of mine once told me about his experience in coming to know and understand the gift of the Holy Ghost. He had prayed often and longed to know the truth of the gospel. Although he felt at peace with his beliefs, he had never received the certain knowledge for which he hungered. He had reconciled himself to the fact that he might be one of those who would have to walk through this life relying upon the faith of others.
One morning, while pondering the scriptures, he felt something surge through his body from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. “I was immersed in a feeling of such intense love and pure joy,” he explained. “I cannot describe the measure of what I felt at that time other than to say I was enveloped in joy so profound there was no room in me for any other sensation.” Even as he felt this outpouring of the Holy Ghost, he wondered if possibly he was just imagining what was happening. “The more I wondered,” he said, “the more intense the feelings became until it was all I could do to tearfully say, It is enough.”
- You need time to meditate and ponder…. I heard President David O. McKay say to the members of the Twelve on one occasion, “Brethren, we do not spend enough time meditating.” I believe that with all my heart. Our lives become extremely busy. We run from one thing to another. We wear ourselves out in thoughtless pursuit of goals which are highly ephemeral. We are entitled to spend some time with ourselves in introspection, in development.
From the words of the Brethren, it becomes clear that we cannot reach our spiritual potential, the development of our true spiritual nature, without some form of meditation and mindfulness.
Discovering the World Anew
Mindfulness helps us to choose what goes around in our mind and thereby enables us to take greater control over what we want to shape in ourselves. This sort of practice has obvious relevance for fulfilling such scriptures as: “Look unto me in every thought” (D&C 6:36), “Pray always and I will pour out my Spirit upon you” (D&C 19:38), not to mention personal new behaviors we wish to incorporate.
With persisting mindfulness practice, what many find is an unexpected shift in their sense of emotional and spiritual wellbeing. And that happens because mindfulness helps exercise who we really are. It exercises a different more spacious aspect of our being. Soon the insight arises that we were designed to use our mind in this alert, present, mindful way rather than in the ways we’ve learned in our culture.
Of course, we do not want to disparage our thinking mind. We are well acquainted with it as the primary tool of analysis and planning, etc., and this aspect of our mind is invaluable in our rationally run world. Many of the thoughts that come to us are important for the life we lead. But we can learn to use it to greater benefit.
As we disengage the auto-thought pilot, as we get out of our heads, out of a doing mode into more of a being mode, and learn to experience the world directly, experientially, we open our spirit up to the limitless possibilities for the happiness and insight that present-moment life offers. We come to trust our alert, still mind more than our thinking mind. In fact, we may come to seek refuge in it as often as we can, finding that we don’t need most of our thoughts.
Mindfulness allows us to experience life directly as a portal to the Unseen World. Expanding awareness through our senses and spirit—experiencing directly the fragrance of the peach; the sun on the dancing leaf; the smooth or rough to the touch; the child’s smile; our loved one’s eyes; the piercing, thrilly birdsong; our body’s response to this or that—we find that our stressful mental chatter quiets down and something wonderful begins to expand. We tune to a different, inarticulate way of knowing—an implicit, intuitive, nonconceptual, direct knowing of what is unfolding. We may come to prefer direct experience to our theoretical thoughts. This preference begins to have far-reaching implications for coming to a knowingness about Truth and the Lord Himself.
The blind Frenchman, Jacques Lusseyran, describes how he learned to pay attention after he was forced into a more acute awareness by the accident which caused his blindness. He had always loved color and nature and the textures of life, but after he became blind, he found that life had dimensions he had not perceived with his natural eyes:
Being attentive unlocks a sphere of reality that no one suspects. If, for instance, I walked along a path without being attentive, completely immersed in myself, I did not even know whether trees grew along the way, nor how tall they were, or whether they had leaves. When I awakened my attention, however, every tree immediately came to me. This must be taken quite literally. Every single tree projects its form, its weight, its movement—even if it was almost motionless—in my direction…. I discovered that the universe consists of pressure, that every object and every living being reveals itself to us at first by a kind of quiet yet unmistakable pressure that indicates its intention and its form…. Even stones are capable of weighing on us from a distance. So are the outlines of distant mountains, and the sudden depression of a lake at the bottom of a valley…. If all people were attentive, if they would undertake to be attentive every moment of their lives, they would discover the world anew. They would suddenly see that the world is entirely different from what they had believed it to be.
Though we labor under a veil of inattention and unbelief, our soul is rich in spiritual perceptors. Through mindfulness we awaken these and sense more deeply the spiritual realm within and without. Let us visit Ammon and the Lamanite king again where there is a suggestion that if the cloud of darkness is removed, one’s being is flooded with light and joy:
[Ammon] knew that king Lamoni was under the power of God; he knew that the dark veil of unbelief was being cast away from his mind, and the light which did light up his mind, which was the light of the glory of God, which was a marvelous light of his goodness—yea, this light had infused such joy into his soul, the cloud of darkness having been dispelled, and that the light of everlasting life was lit up in his soul, [Ammon] knew that this had overcome his natural frame, and [the king] was carried away in God. (Alma 19:6)
It was the Christmas season when President Gordon B. Hinckley extended to us an invitation to come in meditation to the Lord Jesus Christ. In accepting the Prophet’s request, we too might dispel the cloud of darkness and give place for the forces of Light to gather strength within us.
I wish for each of you a time, perhaps only an hour, spent in silent meditation and quiet reflection on the wonder and the majesty of this, the Son of God. Our joy at this season is because He came into the world. [May we ponder] the peace that comes from Him, His infinite love which each of us may feel, and an overwhelming sense of gratitude for that which He freely gave us at so great a cost to Himself.
The prophet’s invitation is not just a casual suggestion or pleasant psychological exercise. He is, rather, inviting us to experience the Lord directly. Through gentle, meditative immersion in a spiritual truth, we can directly experience its reality.