The Spiritual Life of An Atheist

January 30, 2011

Spiritual Life of An Atheist: My Own Experience of Mindfulness

I am not a Buddhist.  In fact, I’m not much of a subscriber to “ism”s overall.  Mindfulness is an oft-used concept in Buddhism, sometimes also called present moment awareness.  From my experience, you can think of it as vivid presentness in being alive.  Language is quite inadequate for capturing actual experience, and these are all somewhat stilted words for an inexpressible, underlying state of mind.  But if you have experienced mindfulness, you can feel its absence and you most definitely welcome its reemergence.

I have practiced different meditation techniques and have developed my own variety of approaches, depending on whether I’m more calm or frayed or opti- or pessi- mistic at the time.  Presently, I don’t use mantras or mudras (although I have) and I don’t have officially sanctioned objects of meditation.  I have used my experience with formal meditation techniques to design my own self-tailored mental/emotional housekeeping.

Being in mindfulness is an exquisite privilege.  You get to experience what it is to be alive without your mind nattering on at you.  Buddhists refer to this nattering aspect of one’s mind as ego.  Experiencing one’s self in the world with one’s palavering ego faint in the distant background is a sublime, and not at all mystical, encounter.  And it is not an easy psychological state to maintain.  Thus, the meditative housekeeping practices.

The benefits of mindfulness are compelling.  No matter what your circumstance, you feel better.  Pain is less excruciating.  Fatigue is less wearisome.  Joy is less fleeting.  In a condition of vivid aliveness, questions about life’s meaning fade.  Enhanced empathy is a happy byproduct, and you feel less peevish and more patient.  I am confident that no one has committed harm from a state of mindfulness.

Jargon can be off-putting.  And mindfulness is not a condition that can be packaged and sold.  It is also not an escape from harsh realities.  Mindfulness does not diminish one’s awareness of poverty and crime and war and environmental devastation and just plain meanness in the world.  I’ve never entered a mindful state and become either Dr. Pangloss or Pollyanna. 

The image for my blog is a photo of my backyard Buddha statue.  I admire the statue not because I worship the Buddha but because he appears to me to be sitting in a state of mindfulness.  Seeing the image of mindfulness reminds me of how it feels and moves me both toward and deeper into it.

copyrigh 2011 S. Anne Johnson

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1 Comment »

  1. I like your take on mindfulness, although I’m not so sure as to what to classify myself as.. I don’t belong under anything really.

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    Comment by Kish — January 30, 2011 @ 7:04 pm | Reply


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