Slow down. Be aware of simple things. They are essential building blocks of our lives.
- Mindfulness is to be aware of everything you do every day. Mindfulness is a kind of light that shines upon all your thoughts, all your feelings, all your actions, and all your words. [Thich Nhat Hanh, Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers (New York: Riverhead Books, 1999), p. 18.]
- My eyes open to a new day
My beautiful child
Slowly stirring in a bed.
[Scott Rogers, Mindful Parenting: Meditations, Verses, & Visualizations for a More Joyful Life (Booklocker.com, 2006), p. 44. Part of the AMorning Routine, the verse is entitled “Waking Up In the Morning.”]
Mindfulness is a desired effect of humility. It is among the deferential virtues but it requires practice. It may be practiced even in times of intense activity. Despite all apparent contradictions, conceivably, a military commander could direct a strike in a mindful state.
Among the religions, Buddhism focuses most clearly on the subject. Buddhist literature on mindfulness conveys a sense of humble but active discipline. Reading these texts is like tasting a fine and complex wine: The palate becomes aware of the competing forces of peace and intense study, followed in no particular order by appreciation, understanding, compassion, empathy, a sense of being integrated and oriented, often called “being centered,” and a lingering aftertaste of gratefulness. A keen sense of awareness is constantly present. The experience is like being enveloped by a benevolent controlling force.
Being mindful focuses the attention, helping the practitioner to move from meditative retreat into an active role in the world. By remaining in a state of mindfulness, we can retain humility and all its component parts and still lead an active and dynamic life, fully engaged and involved.
Technical and Analytical Readings
- V.L. Ives-Deliperi, M. Solms and E.M. Meintjes, “The neural substrates of mindfulness: An fMRI investigation,” Social Neuroscience, 2010 Sep 9:1-12.
- Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life (Hyperion Books, 2005).
- Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness In Everyday Life (Bantom, 1992).
- Thich Nhat Hanh, Answers From the Heart: Compassionate and Practical Responses to Life's Burning Questions(Parallax Press), 2009.
- Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness: Walking the Buddha's Path (Wisdom Publications, 2001).
- Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English (Widsom Publications, 2002).
- Myla Kabat-Zinn and Jon Kabat-Zinn, Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting (Hyperion Books, 1997).
- Scott Rogers, Mindful Parenting: Meditations, Verses, & Visualizations for a More Joyful Life (Booklocker.com, 2006).
- Michael Carroll, The Mindful Leader: Ten Principles for Bringing Out the Best In Ourselves and Others (Trumpeter, 2007).
Works by Thich Nhat Hanh on mindfulness:
- Thich Nhat Hanh, The Blooming of a Lotus: Guided Meditation for Achieving the Miracle of Mindfulness (Beacon Press, 2009).
- Thich Nhat Hanh, Answers from the Heart: Practical Responses to Life’s Burning Questions (Parallax Press, 2009).
- Thich Nhat Hanh, Mindful Movements: Ten Exercises for Well-Being (Parallax Press, 2008).
- Thich Nhat Hanh, Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices (Parallax Press, 2009).
- Thich Nhat Hanh, Transformation and Healing: Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness (Parallax Press, 2006).
- Thich Nhat Hanh, Touching the Earth: 46 Guided Mediations for Mindfulenss Practice (Parallax Press, 2008).
- Thich Nhat Hanh, Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children (Parallax Press, 2011).
- Thich Nhat Hanh, For a Future to Be Possible: Buddhist Ethics for Everyday Life (Parallax Press, 2007).
It is more difficult to teach ignorance to think than to teach an intelligent blind man to see the grandeur of Niagara. I have walked with people whose eyes are full of light, but who see nothing in wood, sea, or sky, nothing in city streets, nothing in books. What a witless masquerade is this seeing! It were better far to sail forever in the night of blindness, with sense and feeling and mind, than to be thus content with the mere act of seeing. They have the sunset, the morning skies, the purple of distant hills, yet their souls voyage through this enchanted world with a barren stare. [Helen Keller, The World I Live In (1907), chapter VIII, “The Five-Sensed World.”]
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
In 1944, the French composer Olivier Messiaen completed his two-hour, twenty-part set of pieces for solo piano, entitled “Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus” (approx. 116-127’), which translates roughly as "twenty contemplations on the infant Jesus." The work “is a cycle of 20 movements, all based on the idea of contemplations upon the infant Jesus. Familiar figures from the nativity take their turns to gaze upon the child, and there are also contemplations from more abstract sources such as silence, time and the spirit of joy.” Messiaen composed the work shortly after being liberated “from prisoner-of-war camp (where he wrote the sublime Quartet for the End of Time) and the publication of his radical treatise on composition, which was to herald the most influential composition classes in Europe for the next forty years.” Osborne gave a live performance. Top performances on disc are by Loriod (Messiaen's wife) in 1956, Peter Serkin in 1975, Béroff in 1987, Austbö in 1994, MacGregor in 1996, Aimard in 2000, Helmchen in 2019, and Chamayou in 2022.
New Age music is a promising idea that seems to have gone horribly awry. Most compositions in this genre are formulaic, many of them resorting, after a few seemingly contemplative introductory bars, to percussive dominance that is hardly distinguishable from casual dance music. Perhaps because the genre has not gained respect, many performers of New Age music lack the skill of top-drawer musicians, reminding one of Groucho Marx's classic retort: "I've been thrown out of better places than this." Exceptions include the works of a group known as Dead Can Dance (Brendan Perry, Lisa Gerrard and others); some of Lisa Gerrard's solo work, including her ethereal “The Mirror Pool” album (1995) (68’). Other Dead Can Dance albums include:
- “Spleen and Ideal” (1984) (38’)
- “Within the Realm of a Dying Sun” (1986) (39’)
- “The Serpent’s Egg” (1987) (36’)
- “Aion” (1990) (36’)
- “Into the Labyrinth” (1993) (55’)
- “Dionysus” (2018) (36’)
Other worthwhile New Age albums include:
- Steven Halpern, “Mindful Piano: Music for Meditation” (2015) (71’)
- Steven Halpern, “Ocean Suite” (2003) (77’)
- Tony Scott, “Music for Zen Meditation” (1964) (44’)
- Tony Scott, “Music for Yoga Meditation” (1967) (38’)
- Ivo Perelman, Matthew Shipp & Joe Morris, “Shamanism” (2020) (50’): “The stimulating repartee brims with a primal soulfulness which marks most of the album. . . . Shamanism is sacred music but not in the traditional sense of the word.”
- Maya Magub, “Canons” album (2022), consists of works by Telemann (six canonic sonatas) and Mozart (canons & puzzle canons). “With the new technology, the canonic players didn’t have to be in the same location, and with the ability to do playback, each voice could perfect itself. The recording process was slower, as files travelled the world to have each voice added. Ms. Magub said the process became truly creative, with performers having more time to consider the music and recording process. She recalls emails about adding ‘alternating trills’ at a cadence point and discussions on tempo preferences. There was time, finally, to really listen to each player’s performance and consider how one’s own voice would fit in. In the end, 5 musicians from Europe and America came together (figuratively) to make this recording.”
Works from the Western classical idiom:
A sect of Tibetan monks practices a unique style of chant.
- Pablo Neruda, “A lemon”
Music: songs and other short pieces
- Nawang Khechog, “With Mindfulness and Wisdom”