But there’s another way to take this statement. And I honestly believe it’s the way most people would take it. They’d look at it and say, “Gosh. I’m not mindful enough. I’m not concentrated enough. Because when I look at a sunrise, I just shade my eyes so that I can get through this traffic jam on West Market Street without running over any of the kids from Our Lady of the Elms. Sunrises kind of annoy me. They give me a headache. I better get more concentrated and more mindful so that I can be more like Thich Nhat Hanh and let the beauty of the sunrise be revealed to me.”
In other words, the concept of “mindfulness” gets in the way of the sunrise. It becomes a big obstacle between what we think of as our self and what we think of as the sunrise. And we make our efforts to try to overcome the obstacle we’ve placed in our own way. Most of the time I hear or read the word “mindfulness” it sounds to me like an obstacle.
Pretty much all of our religions and our various self-help practices are based on the idea that what we are right now is not good enough. We then envision what “good enough” must be like and we make efforts to transform what we are right now into this image of ourselves as “good enough.” We invent in our minds an imaginary “mindful me” and then try to make ourselves into that. The problem with this kind of effort is right at its very root. We are setting up a habit of always judging ourselves as being not whatever it is we want to be.
Alan Watts said something similar about excessive self-awareness becoming more like paralyzing self-consciousness:
For feeling blocks action, and blocks itself as a form of action, when it gets caught in this same tendency to observe or feel itself indefinitely—as when, in the midst of enjoying myself, I examine myself to see if I am getting the utmost out of the occasion. Not content with tasting the food, I am also trying to taste my tongue. Not content with feeling happy, I want to feel myself feeling happy—so as to be sure not to miss anything.
“Mindfulness” to me only means setting aside time to allow the chattering monkeys of the mind to fade away on their own, but I take Brad’s point. It flatters our culturally inherited work ethic to see mindfulness as a reward to be achieved through devoted effort and delayed gratification. Meditation for those people is still an opportunity to flex the cerebellum, to be active and positive and in control, to keep pursuing the egocentric fantasy of being masters of their fate, captains of their souls.