It seems I have come more or less full circle. I have found that I actually seem to attenuate to certain types of primitive communication, body language mostly, in order to understand people when their words elude me. I have always been a proponent of the adage that actions speak louder than words. As it turns out, humans are just as impulsive, or instinctive in their body language as birds, dogs or the primordial man. We have, ingrained in our genes, certain programming which trumps whatever we happen to be communicating with words: Grunts, huffs, sniffs. 'Micro-expressions'. If you have ever seen the TV show 'Lie to Me'... well, that's a little more advanced, but you get the idea, right? We are constantly saying something, even when we can manage to shut up for just a moment.
I have found that it's in "reading between the lines"—literally between the words—that I can really pick up on people's emotions. People make little "micro-grunts" to express displeasure. They sniffle when they enter a room, or clear their throat to announce their presence when they fear that they might spook someone, or feel that they owe the courtesy so that other occupants don't feel a false sense of privacy, etc. I see it constantly, I even catch myself doing it. And sometimes, I find myself trying to resist an impulse, and it happens anyway!
Have you ever been in a room with someone who just seems way too into what they are doing to notice you enter, and you're pretty sure that when they notice you, they are going to either be spooked or embarrassed that they didn't know you were there? Maybe you don't know this person, maybe you just can't think of anything to say... And then your throat legitimately starts itching, or maybe your nose... at any rate, your Sympathetic Nervous System gives you an easy out! You clear your throat, without even looking up. Or you sniffle just enough to ease that little tickle-y tingle that was building up. Sympathetic indeed. ;-)
So far, this has had very little to do with the title of this particular post. No matter, I needed to put those thoughts out there first. But I suppose I can segue into the real topic with an invitation to you, dear reader, to pay attention to that sort of thing, and see if it doesn't change the way you experience personal interaction. I am going to go out on a limb and say that if you keep an eye or an ear out for these or other sorts of behaviors that perhaps you hadn't looked for before, that it will indeed change your paradigm. Not (necessarily) because you'll start feeling like a caveman (you might). But because you will be practicing "Mindfulness".
Mindfulness is simply being present, aware, in the moment. I say "simply" but it can actually be a difficult thing to do sometimes. In fact, it is a very sad thing but I believe that in our culture, in the entire life of an average adult, they will spend less than a day—cumulatively— in a state of actual, upper-case, Mindfulness. Even artists, dancers, musicians and other types that would be considered "in tune" find it difficult to reach the state of mindfulness that really, truly allows for pure, uninhibited personal expression... In time, their bodies get used to the motions and gestures that produce their art: muscle memory. brush strokes, pirouettes, face-melting guitar solos... whatever it may be, once it is committed to habit, the mind becomes free to wander again. and it does. And when it does, it is usually thinking ahead, or recalling the past, or fixating on some aspect of the present while ignoring a whole wealth of others. Muscle memory is what allows chefs to mince herbs without looking, while simultaneously screaming some obscenity at a slow-poke waiter, and kicking a mop bucket all without cutting himself. Now, is he being "mindful"? Sure, he is minding his and everyone else's business, because that's job, and he's darn good at it. But he's not Upper Case Mindful. Okay, okay... I'm ready to introduce the title.
Perhaps you have heard me, or read me, talking about my thoughts on the nature of Hell. If not, this is the place to do so. Right here, right now.
Embarrassingly recently, I had a couple of very different experiences of being in complete hell by my own doing. We can even capitalize that: it was Hell. I didn't have a name for it at the time of the first experience, but the second experience shed quite a lot of light on it all. I first understood it as the duality of Fear Vs. Love, but in the past several months, that understanding has broadened to encompass the (false?) duality of Heaven Vs. Hell.
First off, let me say that I don't mean to disrespect anyone who believes that either or both of these places actually exist on a physical plane. I don't really know if I believe that myself, though I certainly believe that Heaven and Hell are real in the mind of the beholder. But let's talk a little about each of their qualities.
- Mansions in the sky
- forgiveness for all shortcomings
- Eternal happiness, love
- Reunited with God
- No more of the "cares of this world".
- "Burning pit" of eternal suffering
- 'Weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth...'
- Cannot progress, or improve one's condition.
- tormented by one's regrets, shortcomings.
- Banished from God's presence
- Chains, enslavement...
I believe they are states of mind. And while I don't claim to know for any certainty whether or not the soul continues after death, it seems possible to me. Perhaps the "place" in which all spirits experience heaven or hell is all around us right now; another dimension, which we have yet to discover and prove. "The spiritual realm", perhaps (and perhaps the laws of the universe declare that humanity will never be able to exist in those dimensions, but that's a musing for another post as well).
So, how does this have anything to do with mindfulness?
Well, this is where I just kinda blurt it out and then hope you stick around while I explain it: Heaven and Hell are simply allegories for the two states of mind that we can choose to be in, or that we cannot help but be in, in this life. We experience either heaven or hell when we fail to be Mindful of the here-and-now.
Hell is the state of mind wherein we fixate on some aspect of the past, and wish and plead and cry and beg in vain that we might change it. Hell is knowing exactly where we messed up in such a way to cause ourselves to be in misery. For instance, how about a kid who didn't take high school seriously, and consequently gets stuck working his whole life in a po'dunk town grocery store as a result. For him, hell is knowing that he could have been a straight A student, and gotten a full ride scholarship to NYU if he hadn't decided that the pursuit of underage drinking and partying took priority over homework. Not a day goes by, not a pallet goes unloaded, that he doesn't feel the weight of his pride, his short-sightedness, in squandering his opportunity.
Or how about the military veteran who struggles with depression, or PTSD, or suicidal thoughts after witnessing the horror of war and killing. His hell is remembering his former self, how he could make his girlfriend laugh, back when he could think of funny things at all. Hell is real enough for him, because he knows it will never be the same, and there's nothing he can do about it. Just like those cruel words you can never take back, or that stock purchase you didn't make... Hell is a state of mind, of dwelling in the past.
If Hell is a preoccupation with the past, then Heaven represents the future, a goal to be attained. A place of peace and relief after a whole life time of blood sweat and tears, where finally we get to experience pure joy and happiness without the cares of this world. Or maybe our "heaven" is just tomorrow, or next week, or upcoming summer vacation... Heaven is ALWAYS in the future, isn't it? Heaven is our "happy place" that gets us through the hard times, because it will be SO worth it. But, to quote a song, "How 'bout them transparent, dangling carrots? How about that ever elusive 'Kudo'?"
Sometimes we need something to keep us going even when we aren't really sure what exactly the nature of our reward even is. Perhaps it's the promise that it is real and attainable that drives us to pursue it. But then again, maybe we are just future-tripping; idealizing the future as a means of escaping the present and all it's cares and woes and myseries that must simply be "endured" to the end.
Heaven is only there the save us from an misunderstood perspective on life. If "men are that they might have joy", then why do we take a raincheck on being with the people we love, doing what we love, experiencing the beauty of the miracle of life? It might be just pure and simple human nature: "yeah, it'll be incredible! I'll get around to it, but not today, I have other stuff to do..." I dunno, it seems like we prefer life on earth. Perhaps it's something that our brains have contrived to appease that drive and desire for certainty. Our brains don't get a break from the moment we're born to the day we die. It doesn't seem outlandish to me that our brains would be predisposed to come up with some BIG reason to keep it waking up day after day, making that commute, punching that timecard, eat, sleep, repeat, ad nauseam. I think it's the culture and society we live in... was there a such thing as "eternity" when there were no clocks? Heaven might be a place, but it might be humanities first group-think modality. A carrot on a stick to keep humanity motivated to put up with all the little busy work that comes with civilization. It just seems to indicate that we are not happy with the reality that humanity has carved out of this world. We haven't taken the time to really be mindful of all the beauty that life has in the here and now. We were never given such an opportunity, so we don't know any different. We spend our whole lives just trying to manage to stay afloat by working our fingers to the bone, and trying to provide for our children... We have bought into an ideology that says that the work is more important that the individual, and that happiness must be sacrificed in order to keep food on the table, and a roof over head. In other words, heaven is for those who don't have time for love, joy, happiness, unity, peace, contentment etc in this life. Sure, we can have those things from time to time, but not during working hours, or the school year, or when the game is on... See what I mean?
Thank you for reading thus far. We're only half-way through with the title. What about the rest?
"Tat Tvam Asi" -- "Thou Art That". It comes from The Upanishads, which comprise some of the Hindu scriptures. The Upanishads are teachings given from either Gods or mentors to mortals about the nature of the universe and of the human experience. Thou Art That, is essentially another way of saying "all is one", or that the "supreme reality" is everything, and everything is the Supreme Reality. It is only through delusion, cultivation of ego, that we come to perceive ourselves as separate from the Supreme Reality, and it is only through accepting the divinity in ourselves that we are able to meld with the supreme reality. When we give up our delusions, we attain nirvana.
What are our delusions? Yesterday and tomorrow. These two are also a part of the one supreme reality, therefore it is delusional to regard over the other, or either over the present moment. Because the present moment is also the supreme reality. Perhaps the present moment is the ONLY reality. How do we experience the present? Mindfulness.
I could tie this in with my understanding of what Christ was trying to teach, and how it is not so different from what the Buddha was trying to teach, or Krishna, or any other transcendent being who tried to teach the art of mindfulness... Christ wanted us to be mindful of each other, and to "consider the lilies", or the birds, or any other of God's creation which doesn't need to fret or stress about the future. The Buddha taught to be mindful that all is impermanent, that nothing lasts. That it is only in accepting this that we are freed of the anguish of hell or the anxiety of heaven...these are illusions as well. It is only through Mindfulness that we learn to exist in that space between Heaven and Hell. There, in balance.... Thou art THAT.
I hope that you got something out of all this. If I can express one more hope for my reader, I hope you catch yourself doing some amusing caveman behavior, and that you remember that cavemen didn't have to worry about 2 o'clock appointments, or mortgages, or fantasy football brackets, and that is exactly what allowed them to be completely present, in the moment, and constantly aware. Drink your food, and chew your water, and never let anyone take another moment of your time, that you don't give willingly. Because time is an illusion anyway. There is an eternity in every single moment. Share eye contact with someone you love, and don't spoil it with spoken language. "how about remembering your divinity? How about you enjoying a moment for once?"