When we are trying to reset our approach to our everyday experience through mindfulness and develop caring mindfulness we transform our relationship with ourselves and those around us. There is a sense of relief in having some control of our own mind and seeing our relationships in a different way, but we might feel overwhelmed by the complex challenges of our modern world.
The world today can seem like a vehicle careering out of control. What is happening to our beautiful planet? Why do we see increasing conflict, anger and rivalry everywhere? What can we as an individual do to change anything? Where can we start?
It seems to me that the starting place has to be the way we take care of our own mind. Our first-person direct experience is the only starting point for anything we perceive or do. If our everyday experience is a minefield of uncontrolled emotional reactions and endless rumination it’s like driving a car with no steering wheel. We are the victims of circumstances and our own habits with very little freedom.
My Imagine Clarity course Meditation Practice Foundations
was devised to be a meeting point with one’s own mind, a method for anyone to be truly in touch with what is going on inside. I hesitate to say it’s a way to take control of one’s mind, because the process is much gentler than that: it’s more a change in perspective in which there is more clarity.
Right from the start I insist that mindfulness should not be a way of detaching from the world in a comfortable bubble, but part of an engagement, in a process that my friend Matthieu Ricard calls ‘caring mindfulness’. Some of our users have been greatly inspired by Matthieu’s book “Altruism”, or by his constant insistence that this is what our world needs.
For mindfulness to be truly caring we have to get in touch with the natural tenderness of our heart. My second series, Awakening the Heart
is a method for doing just that, using our own experience to discover our own hidden capacities for compassion and kindness. Everyone has had a flash of altruistic love at one moment or another, a moment of simple tenderness and well-wishing in the presence of our children or a good friend, and perhaps a moment of spontaneous compassion when we see the suffering of those around us and in the world at large. This simple starting point can be the beginning of a beautiful journey.
Many friends who are meditating each day and trying to be more mindful and compassionate in their lives have noticed that quite quickly it can have a positive effect on their relationships with their family, friends and associates. Simply by having more clarity and inner freedom one is able to express one’s love for dear ones in a healthier way, listen to the situations that arise, and be aware of the others’ point of view.
However life is complex. We all, in our different ways, have a huge backlog of habits, fears, wounds and prejudices. Working on one’s own mind takes time. The pressures and expectations forced on us by the modern world, and the current trajectory of this world that we share, present so many seemingly intractable problems. Even with the best of intentions, we can easily feel panicked, helpless or overwhelmed.
The series Knowing Yourself to Know The World
suggests lines of reflection to start to free ourselves from the tyranny of imposed ideas of who we are and what we should be. It is important to understand that the process of training the mind is not a quick fix to be always in one’s comfort zone but an ongoing process of discovery. There is happiness and also sadness. There is a painful tenderness for the suffering of the world but also an appreciation of its magic.
All these courses take as a starting point what anyone can experience and feel. Hopefully, with a little more clarity and compassion we can develop a sense of freedom, and we will be better equipped to live a truly meaningful life.
How can we translate our caring into action? Where can we start?
We can already make a difference around us, in the way we relate to others. We can have the inner freedom to truly listen to the situations that arise. Sometimes we can make a positive contribution and sometimes there is not much we can do. But when we are faced with tragic situations or great distress, often just to be truly present with a certain stability and a loving heart can be a help in itself.
Concerning action in the wider world, each person has to see what they can realistically do. Our attitude already makes a difference and influences those around us, and our individual gestures to respect and care for our damaged planet are at least a starting point. Instead of feeling that we can’t make a difference we can put our energy into making whatever difference we can.
You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.
(Jane Goodall lived for years among the chimpanzees in Africa. Her discoveries as a primatologist revealed the extent of their intelligence, emotional life and culture. Now in her eighties, she has constantly campaigned for the welfare of animals and the environment.)
Photo of Seattle by Nitish Meena.