Being Aware and Purpose
Being Here with Purpose
What do we mean by ‘knowing’ and ‘knowledge’? How do we know anything? Mindfulness, of course, is a kind of way to know. I’ve always been troubled by the feeling that there is more to mindfulness than ‘being fully present in the moment’; as though such present-moment awareness could be neutral with respect to accumulated knowledge.
For a start, the phrase ‘present moment’ points to time, and most people’s perceptions of ‘time’ start out by being shaped by their training (via their parents and their schooling). We bring those structures, and their further shaping activity to our mindfulness.
We are trained from very young to apply a particular temporal structure to experience; and, therefore to knowledge. This temporal structuring shapes our sense of reality. So, when we approach ‘the present moment’ we don’t do so without this unconscious shaping. This is something that mindfulness can, itself, reveal, of course.
In other words, one particularly illuminating thing about being mindful, if we stick to it, will be our failure – our failure within the present time structuring. The depth of ‘the present moment’ will involve an uncovering, by revealing our conditioned structuring of time, space and knowledge. If we are willing to experience a changed reality, then we can go deeper.
The secular mindfulness and meditation ‘movement,’ backed by cognitive science, psychotherapy, and a passion for independence from religions, frequently quotes Jon Kabat-Zinn on mindfulness: “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.”
That ‘on purpose’ bit is important to note. Mindful attention is never without intention. Consciousness is always intentional, if by intentional I can mean: carrying-forward the life process of the organism, in some way. Attention is, by its nature, self-reflexive. Not even ‘pure’ awareness of our senses is without all the past moments of awareness carrying forward in this moment’s attention.
Consciousness is by its nature a kind of ‘kind-ing’ process. It is oriented to knowing ‘kinds’ of experience, and so consciousness ‘kinds’ everything it comes into contact with. Even something entirely new, something entirely out of the range of previous knowledge, is encountered as ‘that kind of thing’ – that is, it is of ‘an un-kinded kind of thing or process.’
That’s the nature of consciousness, and this is the reason why the Nikāya Buddha doesn’t see consciousness as providing completeness. So, if having a purpose is inescapable, we need to choose our purposes for mindfulness carefully.
If we think that there is some objective, un-kinded kind of way to have contact with a flower, a bird, a cloud, or another human, then that’s going to be an ideal that gets brought to each encounter. It seems to me that there’s no way around the fact that a flower is a flower precisely because it is in interaction with human consciousness. As Wordsworth meant, when he spoke of “all the mighty world/ Of eye, and ear,- – both what they half create,/ And what perceive…”
So, ‘on purpose’ gets to be important. What is the kind of motivation we have when we are ‘paying attention’? Are we mindful to improve our health and mental balance? That’s a positive motivation. Do I wish to go to the root of divisions in human society, by understanding the division-making in my own mind? That may have even more important ramifications, for the kind of society we create.
Do I practice mindfulness because I want to be true to human process, be a real human? Or, because I want to engage in purifying human knowledge processes and know the nature of mind?
To penetrate the depths of mindfulness, it won’t be enough to only cultivate relaxation, and less stress. These are good motivations in themselves, especially because they are aimed at a reduction of human suffering.
However, to know the roots of human freedom we need to go deeper. So, regarding ‘purpose’ – what kind of commitment will you cultivate? What commitment is needed to fulfil the species’ next step in human growth (remembering that you and I are its leading edge, because we are here now)?
Relaxation and stress reduction can help me to die more peacefully, and mindfulness in support of spiritual inquiry can turn death, the inevitable guest, into an opportunity to enter the deathless element, the unsurpassable host.