It took me many years to realize that the goal of mindfulness is not to be mindful, but to use it as a tool to gain insight into the three characteristics. It is by gaining a deep understanding of impermanence, non-self, and the nature of suffering that our lives begin to change in a profound way. These insights lead to a permanent shift in our experience of reality that are not dependent on our continued mindfulness practice.
The mindfulness journey can lead us to a state that I call ‘well-being’. It was my desperate search for well-being that caused me to fall into addiction in the first place. My lack of well-being also generated endless seeking that made life uncomfortable for me in our out of addiction. It was only by reaching a state of well-being that I could finally be free. I describe this well-being as having three aspects:
Much of our dissatisfaction with life occurs because we think we know that is going on. Our head is full of stories about how things ‘should be’ rather than noticing how things actually are. Instead of being fascinated by the mysterious and ever-changing world around us, we prefer to focus on what we know. This leads to a life that feels stale, limited, and where taking drugs to feel better makes perfect sense.
Wonder means meeting life from a place of curiosity. It involves letting go of our ideas about how things are, and actually looking to see what’s there. When we do this, something amazing happens. Everything we took for granted suddenly appears new, mysterious, and full of possibilities. Most of us are flabbergasted by how we could have missed such a wonder that was always right in front of us.
Our sense of disconnection from the world is arises due to the fact that we have become mesmerized by thinking. It is like becoming so engrossed while reading a horror story that we began to believe it is real. This relationship with thinking creates an imaginary barrier between us and everything else. As we pay more attention to our life, we begin to see how ridiculous this belief was – there is no part of us that doesn’t belong to life, so how could we be separate from it?
Once the sense of disconnection disappears, we discover a sense of intimacy with life that our heart yearns for. This sense of connection does not depend in any way on life behaving a certain way or other people behaving a certain way. We discover that intimacy is not something that we have to earn, but is what exists when we lower our thought-generated barriers.
Trust is the recognition that right now is the only way it ever could be. It is what it is – always. It is the ridiculous belief that we are somehow getting ‘now’ wrong that triggers anxiety, self-loathing and an inability to relax. Practices like Vipassana can help us to see that we have no choice as to what is arising – all that matters for our peace of mind is how we are relating to what happens. The Christian mystic Anthony de Mello summed up trust best with the words ‘absolute cooperation with the inevitable’.
In this video, I delve deeper into these three aspects of well-being.