The goal of mindfulness isn’t to erase emotions, rather the goal is to not be bound up by them. No human with blood still coursing through their body is without feelings, but by being mindful we can rise above our emotional triggers integrate our choices by staying present and aware in the moment, which is fundamental to enlightenment.
It has been a week of change, though when isn’t it? My sister’s manager left the company without explanation, TBB has taken a new job that is both a promotion to leadership and that will see her based in the Pacific Northwest, and someone I was working with decided that they cannot be there for me anymore at this time.
Add to that a woman who felt I jumped her right-of-way at a four way stop intersection and then decided that I deserved all the raging verbal abuse she could deliver in the three minutes until the light ahead of us turned green.
I know that all these events are about other people and not me, but just knowing that doesn’t mean that they don’t stimulate my emotions.
“I’m amazed by actors who can direct themselves,” said Mark Rydell. “It’s oppositional; the two skills are in direct contrast to one another. An actor has to live in the moment. If he’s really good, he doesn’t know what happened during a take. On the first day of shooting On Golden Pond, Henry Fonda and Kate Hepburn turned to me after the first take with faces like nineteen-year-old kids. They had become lost in what they were doing, and were unable to evaluate what happened. Which is the appropriate way for an actor to work. If they’re judging themselves, then their concentration is not where it belongs.”
— Scott Eyman, “John Wayne: The Life and Legend”
In real life, though, if we want to get clear, we are called to be both actor and director, to be both both participant and observer at the same time. We need to be both in the moment, open, vulnerable & empathetic and be outside the moment, considerate, measured & safe, in order to make the best choices possible.
The key choice of mindfulness is this: which choice moves you and the interaction toward openness & connection and which choice moves you and the interaction more towards crazy & separation? In ACIM terms, the choice is between love and fear, between the holy spirit and the ego, but the more common text is the choice between being centred in the moment and acting out of buried emotion, the choice between clear understanding and messy shit.
Mindfulness is what lets us be present in the moment between stimulus and response, the only moment where we can select to make a considered choice or make a habitual reaction.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In those choices lie our growth and our happiness.
― Viktor E. Frankl, “Man’s Search for Meaning”
The key to mindfulness is getting over our own damn stuff, over the routine defences we have built to protect and rationalize our behaviour so we can stay in the moment.
From an early age, I understood the requirement for mindfulness, long before I understood the traditions and philosophy of it. I suspect that this early inclination is what we identify in children who have “old souls,” those who approach the world with broader context and weary wisdom.
I didn’t have support in learning the practice of mindfulness, didn’t have teachers who could help me with the range of techniques needed to stay present in the face of both my own emotions and the acting out of others that stimulated them. I had to start collecting behaviours, practices that helped me discharge my emotions.
My emotions, of course, were corrupt, perverse and disordered. I knew that because I saw how my mothers emotions sent her into narcissistic rages, expounding that everyone else’s choices were always about tormenting her. I knew that because my emotions called me to transgender expression, which was punishable. I knew this because my father never understood my emotions.
I struggled to gain agency in surreptitious ways, learning to often pound my own head when I failed to exhibit enough control to attenuate my own emotions.
Slowly, I built up my own skill set, with the power of writing out my experiences and learning to focus on activities where I could become engaged and therefore selfless. Gratitude and wit are fundamental, of course, so those became habits. I don’t have a brain that switches off, so I needed to learn how to divert it. For example, one of my current techniques is to play audiobooks at 200% speed so that I can be consumed in focus. I have also slept on the concrete floor, for example, although I don’t currently own a hair shirt.
I do focus on service though, knowing that it is easier to be mindful about another person’s challenges than it is about mine, so the way to keep and own the gift is to give it away, for as we teach we learn, achieving ownership of our own possibilities. Being a grown-up means being able to help others beyond our own fears and whining.
I just saw a tribute to Don Rickles where various comedians wanted to describe him as having the balls to battle an audience. To me, hey miss the point. The joy of Rickles is the joy of watching a martial arts exhibition. Unlike other comics who rely on chunks of material to create a routine, Rickles is actively present, creating new comedy out of new observations and old tropes in the moment. That’s why he had the ability, as Bill Cosby envied, able to get Johnny Carson to laugh, because the brilliance of the performance was always playful, fresh and surprising surfing our angst like a zen master of comedy. Mindfulness honed in a strip club.
The essence of breathtaking artistic creation is always the power to be free and loose in the moment, creating with the blend of deeply integrated skills and intense present engagement that creates mastery.
The scars of getting to this mastery are deeply within me and my environment. The door at the top of the stairs, for example, has it’s frame disconnected from he walls because I have slammed it too many times in the past decade to discharge emotions. Frustration builds up in me as I feel the need to stay present and centred, my aesthetic denial not based in the traditions of a faith community but rather in the very individual path of the hermit concierge.
For me, the discharging of emotion lets me create the habit of seeing connection, the discipline of being a network thinker rather than a vectorhead, someone stuck in the rut between opposites. I work to understand the world as a rich collection of nodes all intertwined and interdependent. One of my key tools is the ability to replay the journey through those nodes, creating new perspective by moving through history and viewpoints to reveal the unseen by dancing around it, the hidden coming into view by revealing connections and voids.
Everyone has to discover their own tools for revelation, for creating expression that moves past habit and expectation to the commonality of shared humanity, As we get more clear, so does our performance of self, more exposed and connective in ways that resonate with common truth.
ShamanGal is reading The Master Game:Pathways to Higher Consciousness Beyond the Drug Experience by deRopp, in which he speaks about the rooms of consciousness and how only mindfulness will allow us to go past rooms one and two where most people spend their lives, into rooms three and four.
“You have the ability to go into the those higher rooms,” she told me.
“Yeah,” I replied, “but you still have to go back to room two when you need to use the can.”
It is only by using our wounds, our emotions and our minds that we can get to a more enlightened state. Mindfulness is powerful, but in the end, it only releases more of our fundamental humanity rather than erasing it, multiplying the power of thought and emotion through disciplined mastery. Mindfulness amplifies humanity by using the best of all of it.
Change always comes, stirring up everything, offering loss and possibility at the same time.
The secret of life, though, is that in the end, you do have to be present to win.