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Evolutionary or devolutionary mindfulness?

Dear Integral Meditators, 

This week’s article looks at the context in which we learn mindfulness & meditation as something to be examined mindfully, as not all learning contexts are equal!

This week’s Tues & Wednesday class are on the subject of ‘Mindfully healing anxiety, insecurity & fear’, all welcome, live or online. 

In the spirit of evolving, 

Evolutionary or devolutionary mindfulness?
Mindfulness as a learning journey
For me the lynch pin of mindfulness practice is the existential level of it. This level is the sense of myself as a rational, independent human being, seeking to make my life a journey of meaning and fulfilment by using my mind to the best of my abilities. For me this level also has a simple but profound ethical level: Objectively I recognise that as an individual I am insignificant compared to the whole (number of humans, Planetary community etc…), and so the practice is geared toward me becoming an effective contributor the this larger whole, my efforts and aspirations flow in that direction.
Existentially then, mindfulness means using your attention, intention and awareness to meet and learn from your everyday experiences, to work wisely with them to make yourself better, and contribute to the whole more effectively. It also involves being dedicated to enjoying that journey, and making it vibrant. If we can do this then:

  • We evolve and grow over our lifetime, a little every day
  • We will contribute to the evolution of the world as we grow as individuals

The context of many mindfulness & meditation methodologies
Interestingly, many mindfulness and meditation methodologies are based upon a pre-modern religious (implicit or explicit) context. This means that the techniques are couched in a language and cultural context that is often rigid, conformist and based upon pre-modern belief systems. So, unless you are careful, you can find (and I’ve seen this happen over and over again) people who are essentially at the rational, individual level of development (see ‘existential’ above), who then take up mindfulness, and end up becoming narrower, less inquisitive and less evolutionary as a result. This is not to say that they don’t become good meditators, but what it does mean is that they only become competent within the narrow confines of the belief system that their practice is couched in.
Pre-modern mindfulness
When I left my life as a monk back in 2001/2, the essential reason was that I had not been able to find all the answers to my mindful questions in the pre-modern context of the Tibetan Buddhism that I had been practising for a decade. I wanted to explore and develop my mindful parameters by integrating new paradigms, methodologies and being creative. I was deeply surprised (although not in retrospect) how few of my colleagues from the group understood this, and how emphatically they withdrew their support once they learned I had decided to seek a practice that was not exclusively based around their ideas. This is what I mean by the rigidity and conformity aspect of a meditation community.
So, this is just something to consider: Mindfulness is by its nature evolutionary and growth oriented, but the context in which it is couched or learned can mean that it has a rigid, conformist, and devolutionary effect on who you are and what you do.
Liberation into evolutionary process
During my time post-monk hood there was a lot of uncertainty, a lot of ‘getting lost’ and encountering the new. Thru-out that time my guiding light was the basic principles of the existential mindfulness I described above:
“The sense of myself as a rational, independent human being, seeking to make my life a journey of evolution, growth and fulfilment by using my intention, attention & intention to the best of my abilities”
My confidence as I travelled came not from knowing all the answers, or being in control, but from my trust in my mind, and my ability to work with my circumstances in a benevolent, flexible, and intelligent manner. Wherever I found myself, I knew that I had a reasonably competent, warm, and friendly traveling companion, me!
Related articleThe dynamic of personal evolution
Effortless effort – Making everything workable

Article content © Toby Ouvry & Integral Meditation Asia 2023. you are welcome to share, but please cite the source, thanks! Contact 

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