Is Mindfulness Bland?

Liz, a participant on one of my “Life With Full Attention” classes, emailed me a great question.

Her question was sparked off by Barbara’s story about Mindful Spectating, and how “Astonishing” she found the experience. Barbara concluded that living more mindfully would have made her a happier person.

But Liz wasn’t so sure.  Wouldn’t a continual Buddha-like calm make life bland?

What an excellent question!

Firstly, mindfulness isn’t necessarily as calm as you might think (I found mindfulness and kitesurfing go together quite well!).  Its true that its easier to meditate in quiet conditions – but what’s going on in the mind can be very challenging. The Buddha declared that mastery over one’s own mind is greater than defeating 1000 men in battle!

The path of liberation can be incredibly adventurous, requiring great daring and courage.  Vessantara tells some amazing stories from the Buddhist tradition in his “Tales of Freedom” – talks on line at http://www.freebuddhistaudio.com/audio/details?num=LOC861, or in book form at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Tales-Freedom-Wisdom-Buddhist-Tradition/dp/1899579273. They come highly recommended – engaging, enjoyable and thought provoking.

But there are some definite benefits to calm – and along the way there can be some “cold turkey.”  Let’s try an analogy….

If you’re used to hot food, then food without chilli can seem rather bland.  (Just think about Going Out For An English – Goodness Gracious Me!).

But if we give up chilli, after a while, we become more sensitive to more subtle flavours.  We find greater satisfaction with lower levels of stimulation.

For example, the most wonderful experience of my life was when I was sat in a quiet room with my eyes closed for an hour (in a meditation retreat centre in Wales). I had a glimpse of a much vaster reality, like seeing the stars in all their glory instead of the inside of a photo booth.  Without the quiet and calm of the retreat centre I would never have had that experience.

It’s similar in everyday life.  With mindfulness we start to appreciate the more subtle and refined experiences of life.  We can derive greater satisfaction from a quiet walk on a spring day than we would previously have got from the most exotic adventure holiday.  (And this might just be the solution to so many of the world’s problems).

Like much of the practice of mindfulness, there’s a surprising subtlety needed. You have to respond to your own mind, and how it is in the moment. Barbara was “out of control, willing on my favourite and hating the opponent, expressed by lots of hurling myself around the room, shouting and gnashing of teeth.” She was way off to one extreme – and its easy to see how more mindfulness helped her.

But if your mind is at the other extreme (perhaps dull, bored, and unable to enjoy the subtle pleasures of life), then it probably needs a bit more enjoyable stimulation.  That’s another aspect of mindfulness – feeding you mind with what it needs to shift into a more positive state.

There’s lots more that could be said – so if you’re left with questions, please ask away (in the comments box below) – I think this could spark a really interesting debate.