Check out this recent NYT article "Being & Mindfulness" a critique of mindfulness by Judith Warner:
"For the truth is, however admirable mindfulness may be, however much peace, grounding, stability and self-acceptance it can bring, as an experience to be shared, it’s stultifyingly boring.
I’ve also come to wonder if something desirably human is being lost in all this new and improved selfhood. That is to say: an edge. That little bit of raggedness that for some of us is really the heart of what makes us human.
Shave that piece off, soften it too mindfully, and I wonder if we don’t leave others out in the cold."
"For the truth is, however admirable mindfulness may be, however much peace, grounding, stability and self-acceptance it can bring, as an experience to be shared, it’s stultifyingly boring."
Yuh. Been there.
Good place to be.
Getting sucked into the content of one's discursive thoughts is not the thing: not following thoughts, just noticing thoughts as they arise, appear, and pass away naturally within the basic spacious field of awareness.
In my experience 'boring' mindfulness (and I know what they mean!) is incomplete mindfulness. From what I have learned, the mindfulness aspect of 'sati' includes a kind of emotional warmth and engagement. I think if we are too willful and 'try' to be mindful then it can be joyless. The mindfulness that shows the beauty of the natural mind has never been boring to me...
A reminder...mindfulness does not shave off the rough edges. It only makes them more apparent...something to observe and watch as they move on. The peace comes with knowing that the ragged places are not static. They roll through the mind like any other thought or attachment. It is the attachment to the raggedness of being human that causes the suffering.
Dwell in the space of BEING,... even momenterily, and much of the commentary found here, or taking pleasure in it, will fall away.
It is not a doing, but an allowing.
And it is all grist for your practice, as it is for mine.
The comments on the web link to the article were a fascinating read of diverse reactions and perspectives and sharp insights about the difference between being present and attaching to practice in a way that makes us flat/facetious/morally obnoxious. Suffering requires real response and authenticity rather than pretentious hiding in the concept of mindfulness rather than the actual experience of being mindful. Maybe that's why I like writing prisoners so much. There is usually a big bullshit detector that prevents me from being a jerk.
In some ways the article reminded me of how sitting still and being attentive is no big deal and so communicating the content of the experience can seem silly because it is often not dramatic. When I come home from meditation intensives my husband asks "how did it go" and I often say things like "The sun moving across the floor was pretty. There were two eagles crying at each other for one of the sits. My knees and back hurt sometimes but the pain wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. The soup was delicious. For two sits the song 'Old Macdonald had a Farm' went through my head". It's pretty rare that I would come home having an amazing insight that, shared, is enough in and of itself to rock both our worlds. There are sometimes stories that seem completely hilarious (like the time Shoji was late getting out of bed so came running into the zendo with no pants on) but often even those have a "you had to be there" quality.
In contrast when we come home from work and ask each other how the day was, it often feels most engaging/funny if there was some kind of constructed drama, usually about how clever or on top or good one of us was -- I was smart/sarcastic when someone was bitchy and I totally outzinged her by being the world's cattiest queen, someone was being homophobic and I flamed and made them all uncomfortable, my boss was an asshole and I got to be morally superior, etc. The social value attached to this kind of drama just isn't there in talking about how practice went. The pleasure of being mean isn't there. If anything practice often shows how ridiculous and silly that kind of drama is and how much is missed when that (like any other mental chatter) becomes the focus of living.
I guess I pretty much agree with the other guys that "boring" mindfulness isn't quite complete mindfulness. It probably isn't that different from the kind of boredom we experience in classrooms where the lecturer isn't quite engaging our attention, or at baseball games with stultified action. I wouldn't call it a thought, as it seems to occupy another realm of perception entirely, but it can certainly help spawn a lot of unhelpful thoughts. I just usually take it as another damn thing, like knee pain. Sometimes these things are really pesky, even for long periods of our life, but seem to me to be just pesky things, often more profitably patiently endured than profitably struggled with.
I like the "ragged edge" image, and I tend to think it is heart of what makes us human, also. And obscuring it by directing out attention away from it in meditation, "mindfully softening" it, if you will, would seem to leave our own humanity out in the cold, followed by that of others. But I would consider that a misdirection of attention, and another kind of incomplete mindfulness. Many, if not all, of us begin meditation practices to escape from something, and discover in the end that this kind of escape leads to a return and acceptance, and a heightened awareness of whatever we wished to avoid, without wishing to escape it any longer. It may not sharpen the edge, but it may hone it, and make us more human in the process.
ok Judith you go ahead and ride that roller coaster, I'll know when its time to laugh uncontrollably for no reason!
I read this article when it came out, and this seems and feels like and reads like a critique from someone who has mastered the art of writing about an experience they really know nothing about.
Its well written in an intellectual sense but lacks authenticity. Sort of like hearing someone criticize sex having never experienced it.
And I'm assuming she doesn't meditate, I could google nothing in that regard concerning her. Her wording indicates she doesn't.
I do all sorts of different meditation, and I understand the angle she takes on the 'human' viewpoint but like others commenting on this story I agree that what she describes stops short of true mindfullness. But how can you know that if you don't practice?
The boss calls you into his office. Would you rather:
a) Run into the bathroom stall, lock it, cower on top of the toilet with your feet on the seat so no one can see you while you try to figure out why the boss called you into his office, and just how you would like to respond to any given scenario of the encounter with the boss for about 20 minutes, before leaving the bathroom to discuss the situation with the most trusted co-worker and run through conspiracy theories involving the boss and the most untrusted co-worker for another 20 minutes, then summoning the courage to enter the boss's office despite being a sweaty, uncomfortable, nervous wreck at this point;
b) Walk into the boss's office and find out what's up.
I prefer (b), usually; and after years of practice, I will end up choosing (b) about 85-95% of the time (old habits die hard). The more I know I've messed up, the more likely I am to go with (a), but I've been slowly discovering that I can go in even when I know I've screwed up because the Truth can't hurt me, only lying about it can do so. Especially here in the West, the universe is often far more forgiving than I think it is.
Also in my experience, people will say they prefer boredom, and then do the exact opposite. Working as a sound engineer at Naropa University, we once had a Hindu guru come to visit. Usually for such events, we have a single microphone for the guru, and another for questions from the audience: a very simple set-up. Two hours before the event, I was approached by two... handlers? I'm not sure what to call them - who proceded to dictate to me a list of usually-contradictory demands for the sound system.
About a half hour before show-time, students, devotees and general groupies showed up and demanded sound equipment, including independent microphones for two sets of tabla drums (which of course we did not have). At show-time, we were well over legal capacity with people, all of them chanting "Jai Ram" at the top of their lungs, with the two handlers turning up the sound while I was away so that we had wild, loud, horrific feedback problems. I'm surprised we didn't lose a speaker or three, and that the cops didn't show.
The handlers, students, devotees and groupies were universally dickish to me. They were absolutely obsessed with making sure everything was spot-on perfect for the guru, and they would throw childish hissy fits if they didn't get their way.
Then the guru walked in. The first thing she did was call for someone to bring her a bouquet of flowers. Then she called me up to give her appreciation for my efforts. She was kind, polite, relaxed, and at-ease. I didn't have the perfect set-up with the perfect sound equipment with the perfect 300+ zafus and zabutons for everybody, but I don't think she would have cared if I even had a single microphone. She was a sharp contrast from her followers. There was no drama there, no need for everything to be perfect. Mess, the perpetual mess that is the Universe, was precious just as it was. And she was part of that precious mess, so I don't think she cared much for the perfection her students seemed desperate to have.
From that time on, I've noticed that (1) the vast majority of us spiritual "students" love the "drama" of the spiritual quest. We pick our teachers based on obscure and inchoate feelings, auras, supposedly-meaningful synchronicities, what-not, and then spend the majority of our time projecting perfection on our gurus and imperfection on pretty much everybody else (most especially ourselves, though we harbor the hope that we are really perfect and the guru will notice this and tell everybody). We claim that we're supposed to do this because it's some form of guru-yoga or bhakti-yoga or whatever. Still smacks of ye ol' value-judgments dependent upon what someone else can do for me, how they can strengthen or weaken my ego.
(2) Gurus are the most absolutely normal, everyday and boring people on Earth. I've met far too many of them, and God they are ordinary. They seem to have a tendency to be warm, friendly, polite, gentle, kind, humorous, unimportant, innocuous and useless (like the sort of people who staffed yearbook in high school). The only reason they are considered "gurus" is someone at some point decided to project that onto them. Should they ever do something imperfect - you know, be human instead of god-like - they lose their guruhood. God forbid we should ever smell their farts and not think they have the aroma of Nag Champa. I've seen some gurus in their on-stage and off-stage personas. I've had some be sharp, unkind, inconsiderate with me. I'm thankful for that disillusionment because:
(3) If I spent more time paying attention - like, genuinely so, instead of superficial attention, even the (dare I say it) superficial attention of mindfulness - then I'd notice the fact that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of "gurus" everywhere in my life. If everything is impermanent, then so is enlightenment; and that means I shouldn't be looking for an "enlightened being" (again, the Zen "kill the buddha if you see him"). If everything has buddha-nature - if the very "essence" of the Universe(s) is buddha-nature - then everyone and everything at all times is helping me towards enlightenment. I can learn from everything and everyone if I just bother to pay attention to them rather than discriminating amongst them. I learn, especially from myself: if I do X, I get Y result.
So as Huang-Po would say, "Chop wood, carry water." Enlightenment isn't some extraordinary state with the ragged bits chopped off; it's the simple act of being in the world, responding to the teachings of the innumerable buddhas around us rather than trying to pinpoint a buddha, the buddha, who is unique amongst all else and rejecting the rest. It is startlingly ordinary, amazingly dull - and that is what makes it so wonderful.
I think Pema says it here - how the space we open in a meditation practice is all about playing at the edge, like a raven in the wind. Nothing boring about it at all - I don't think we ever renounce our humanity through mindfulness. If anything, we dive right into the mess, sometimes head into the wind, against the stream, completely human and not separate from any one else. If we leave others out in the cold, hopefully we will circle back and bring warmth where they perceived cold. If we are just trying to improve our selfhood for our own gain so we can stay in our seat, then I can see Judith's point and I admit to feeling that way sometimes myself. But that is, like has been said, when I am not really in my practice but am rather going through the motions. Practice ebbs and flows - the edge is not always in view. If we appear to be smooth and without any edges, we may just be at a place where the path is quiet so we can catch our breath.