The magic island and the big task

I got back last weekend from our annual Mindsprings retreat up on Holy Island, off the coast of Arran in Western Scotland.

resist MacMindfulness and become the Resistance!

I’ve been meaning to write about Suzanne Moore’s thought-provoking article in the Guardian last month.

You can often spot the speed at which columnists write their offerings by the bagginess of their style and this article is no different, bouncing about as it does between a critique of secular mindfulness, Marina Abramovic and the corporate hue of Adriana Huffington. But, nonetheless, Moore poses several key questions which I think are crucial for practitioners to ponder.

  1. Why is mindfulness so popular now in this particular historical moment, characterised as it is in Europe and America by grim austerity in the wake of financial collapse, regressive political tides and a seemingly bleak Middle East meltdown?
  2. How mindful are we of the creep of ‘MacMindfulness’ and the neutering of this radical practice into a sort of dissociated safe-space from the aforementioned bleakness? Moore calls this the “commodifying of blankness”
  3. If we are wary of mindfulness being co-opted by late capitalism as an efficient ‘pill’ that allows us to blank-out the excesses of exploitation, degradation and impoverishment that are being carried out around us, how can we ensure that mindfulness stays connected to the very radical potential of its original Buddhist roots?
  4. What is that radical potential and how much do we have to subscribe to the Buddhist belief that suffering comes from greed, hatred and ignorance to unlock it? How can we answer Moore’s central critique: “ This neutered, apolitical [mindfulness] … lets go of the idea we can change the world; it merely helps us function better in it”.

These are chunky questions but are more necessary than ever.

Discuss, while walking

It’s the first morning home and my feet are remarkably spry. Winchester in Hampshire to Brighton in East Sussex. That’s three English counties and 75 miles in six days.

Apologies firstly for the long lacuna on this site.

And other egocentric worries...

Kathy and I are running a course on self-care at the spa road buddhist centre next weekend and so our thoughts have been circumnabulating around the tricksy subject of the self and what to do with it.

I am running a half marathon in a few weeks.

“I am the eyes of the Universe observing itself” Shelley

I would like to think that mindfulness meditation offers a new way of being alone. That would be the goal inspiring the Mindsprings course this summer.

"Loneliness is no particular colour - a mountain of black pines on an autumn evening." Bashō.

As I proposed in the earlier blog, loneliness is co-created by the society we live in. There are other cultures, for example, where solitude (loneliness’ twin) is considered highly-prized. The early Buddhists saw sitting alone under a forest tree or in a mountain cave as being a perfect place to be. Similarly, the 17th century Zen poet, Bashō made much of the quality of sabi which he saw as the underlying quality of all human existence; a bitter-sweet solitude which was colourless and profound. Thoreau, living alone out on Walden pond in the America of the 19th century, also prized his experience, turning our idea of loneliness up on its head: “I have a great deal of company in my house; especially in the morning, when nobody calls.”

This is a series of essays on a subject that i’m interested in exploring in 2014: loneliness. Last year at Mindsprings we concentrated a lot of anxiety and how mindfulness can work to lessen the pain around this ubiquitous experience. This year I would like to concentrate on loneliness.

Ram Dass, faced by a rather smug bunch of his students, once said: "You think you're enlightened? Go and spend a week with your parents.."

Ajahn Sumedho, perhaps the most pre-eminent Western teacher in the Thai Forest Sangha tradition, abbot of many monasteries, and often seen as a the successor of Luang Por Chah, left the Thai forest to travel back to the USA to look after his ailing father for the holidays. When he opened the door to Sumedho, 6'7" in his resplendent ochre robes, the father snarled: "I don't care who you think you are elsewhere. Here, in this house, I am boss. Understood?"

Christmas is the most powerful time to observe that particular human magnetism that we call the Family Gathering and the effect it has on our mind.