I do not believe we suffer from inauthenticity as a Western society, I believe we suffer from incompleteness. Inauthenticity is a symptom of that larger struggle. I am a mindfulness practitioner and this is the meat of my work.
Mindfulness feels vague and difficult to define. Instead of attempting to articulate what mindfulness is, I can share what I have gained from it. Specifically, I’m more in touch with my whole and most true self and I’m comfortable walking around like that in my everyday life, even across a multitude of settings.
That is a change. The first few decades of my life, I was careful to dress myself in the self du jour; the most appropriate, socially-dictated partial self those around me expected or even demanded.
I never meant to show up “partial self” or to set aside my wholeness, but I did understand what was expected and good kids do what’s expected. Long ago, it was more important for me to be seen as good than any other thing.
Our systems wisely fabricate protective filters. Since I do not thrive in a bubble, my people are a patchwork of humanity. It’s been tricky. So much listening. So much performing. So many filters.
No more filters. As a result, everything is more clear–for myself and others. I experience less of the contradictory binds role-playing can cause, and I’m much happier. Depending on my beloved others, some are more comfortable around me now and others are less comfortable.
Working as a mindfulness practitioner and guide, I am happy to share the seeds of mindful self-regulation with others, and I relish in the wonder of what gift it will grow to be for them.
Discerning Boundaries From Division
While the distinction of an I separate from you is important, the mindful should not go to great lengths to continue to proclaim that there is an us separate from them. The compulsion to declare this is simply too great for most of us, and I find it is spoken and unspoken everywhere I turn inside the world of mindfulness.
If only more people were more mindful…is not a mindful thing to say. It is a judgmental thing to say.
With great care, I desire to listen and notice. If you know me, you are aware of the many miles I’ve traveled in that intention. Because I try to do my noticing from a place of neutral objectivity, I am generally more reluctant to buy into rhetoric of any kind.
But hey, my son tries to avoid eating vegetables of certain colors and I’m really good at hiding them in yummy soup. Sometimes life is like that soup. I’m going to swallow some rhetoric here and there. I’m going to deepen the divide sometimes, and then I’ll have to reset the intention.
Even when our intention is built around awareness, we all carry implicit biases. If you want to learn more about implicit bias, and how it shows up in your mind…please go here, to Project Implicit.
Project Implicit is where I found out I have a “moderate implicit bias” for black faces over white faces, using the Race IAT. The test also shows you where you fit into the population that has taken the test thus far. Five percent of the population that has taken the Race IAT demonstrates my same implicit bias.
First, I must pause and observe my reaction to this piece of information and where I try to run with it. Humans want to make meaning and sense, and I could get vigorously lost in the weeds, patting myself on the back about this result.
As a white person, the meaning I could try to make is that I am not a racist. But that is not what this test declares at all. If I were to take that next step and start to pat myself on the back, that would be a miss. And beware, our minds do this all the time; adding meaning that may or may not be accurate before we even catch it.
In fact, the test only asserts that I have a very specific, unconscious and implicit bias. Now I have awareness of that bias, and while I am not biased AGAINST black faces, I am walking around with a moderate bias that clouds my objectivity.
This test result was easy for me. It fits with my conscious awareness that I feel warmth, respect, and comfort in the company of black men and women. Other tests were very uncomfortable for me–painful, even. Awareness stirs discomfort, which prepares the field for growth.
Walking it back to Mindfulness
The flaws inherent in our human brain architecture, the cost of living, and our hectic pace of life are a handful of things that have made our innate self-regulation assets inaccessible to us. Now, Western mindfulness entrepreneurs have made it into a booming industry.
We’ve monetized something that is free, and in doing that we’ve set all manner of rules and rigidities into motion that make mindfulness feel bulky and cumbersome to those who need it most. It’s often packaged in a way that feels incomplete and therefore, inauthentic.
Also, we become pushy about it, touting mindfulness as the only way. When we force feed mindfulness, we polarize people from nurturing something they already own. This is an act of reclaiming, not selling something new. Guiding, not prescribing.
In response to incomplete Western mindfulness practices, our culture has made a myriad of social stories. They sound like this: “Well you know, some people just can’t sit with their minds,” and “Mindfulness is not for everyone.”
I respond to these with, “Sure,” and I smile.
Because if I respond with, “That’s just not true,” and go on to explain this further, then that person is going to notice I didn’t respect the boundary he or she set around the topic, which was essentially another way of saying to me, “Step back, Mindful Molly.”
The best thing I can do is step back, because mindfulness is not a fire extinguisher to be sprayed outward onto the world that feels too hot, too mindless, too self-absorbed, too analytical, too impulsive, or too disconnected.
Mindfulness is a process of turning the fire extinguisher internally, because we will be any or all of those too-muchy things, on any given day. We are not in the business of suppression and control. We are in the business of detaching from the need to suppress or control.
Only by turning my mindfulness lens inward, can the person who is raging in traffic be observed as merely a nuisance allowed to pass by barely noticed.
Only then, can we sit next to our friends or family who are chain smoking and drinking lots of soda, when we do neither, with unconditional love.
Only then, can we watch our children with the careful heart of discretion that keeps us from bleating, “Be careful,” or “Be quiet,” or “Be still,” incessantly and irritably like a nanny goat. They know we’re just being a nanny goat. It is we, who do not.
We need mindfulness not to change the world into a more mindful place, but to change our roles and responses to the world’s chaos. We use it to remove our own particularly useless responses out of the collective turbulence, modifying them into something useful.
Through mindfulness, we may spare internal resources and walk more wisely. We may come to embrace true accountability, as opposed to preachy condescension. And whether we are angry, sad, bored, or joyful, we become connected to those moments of feeling with clarity and responsibility.
Opportunities for Reflection
What drove you to mindfulness?
What compels you to drive it over others?
How can you model mindfulness more and preach it less?
If you are to be a messenger of mindfulness, how can you listen more? Inquire more? Understand more? Detach more?
Yes or No Inquiries
If you feel compelled to share a critical observation with a friend, colleague, or family member, have you first asked them for consent to apply your mindfulness lens to their actions?
And even then, is it possible you are reacting to someone’s passing, imperfect moment with a dogmatic lens?
Has your mindfulness become a dogmatic worldview, rather than an internal practice?
Can you presume to know less, and lay down the mantle or veil of the expert?
Can you strive to embrace that mindfulness does not always look like the pure white lotus?
Can you sit quietly with your own discomfort in the company of those you do not understand, enough to expand your mindfulness, awareness, or knowledge of new constructs even more?
Can you embrace that we sometimes do harm even when we are knowledgeable and well-intentioned, and can you commit to repairing these harms when they occur, understanding that forgiveness is not always the final outcome?
Regardless of your answers, it will never hurt to ask yourself these questions. Thank you.