In twelve step meetings, to help heal addictions, the leader reads the promises, which say that, if we follow the recommended practices, “we are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. …We will know peace.”
A writing teacher says, “positivity and expansiveness…will give you access to your essential creative channels…That is a promise.”
A promise is “a declaration or assurance that…a particular thing will happen.”
Mindfulness has its promises too: improved physical health, calmer mind, better emotional regulation, reduction of obsessive thoughts, clearer focus, less stress.
Mindfulness: that special awareness that arises when we practice paying attention on purpose to what’s happening in the present moment, letting go of judgments of right/wrong, good/bad. You might say mindfulness is knowing that what is, is. We drop into here and now, leaving the past, which can torment us (“I shouldn’t have… I should have… I regret….”), leaving the future and its anxiety (“what if….?”).
The promises come from practice, from skill-building. To reap the promises, teachers “invite” us to practice every day, in as many “drop into here and now moments” as possible. Mindfulness training is therefore not “good stuff” (as a friend once said) any more than the 12 steps are a ”good idea” or creativity “a great concept.” This awareness requires repetition, routine and intention. How do we do that? How do we anchor in the present moment? Maybe we feel the breath coming and going. We might feel body sensations like feet on the ground, or focus on a beautiful landscape or the sounds around us. Mindfulness does not take extra time; it grounds us, tuning and turning our attention moment-to moment. Simple. Not always easy because the mind hops around.
The mind, swinging from branch like a monkey, might think, on its way to the laundry room, “I should call my daughter.” Do you hear the judgment in “should?” “Could” would be more open. Then monkey mind thoughts leap to other branches, even to other trees: “She should call me. When did she call last? I’m a little angry. No, sad. Wait. Where was I? Oh, yes, on my way to fold laundry. Is it done? Or maybe I just have to switch it from the washing machine to the dryer. I wonder if the napkins’ll be clean and dry for dinner. I’m glad we switched from paper to cloth. “
Swing. Swing. Swing. Past, present, future. Mind as vagabond. Past regrets. “Good” memories. “Bad” memoires. Fears of a future which is promised to none of us, or fantasy-filled ones. It’s good to stop every now and then and ask, “Am I present? Where’s my attention?”
Are there promises with our addiction to the usual, automatic, unfocused, wandering mind that we practice all day and at night in our “I can’t sleep” ruminations? Do promises arise when we ignore the present moment? Yes. Monkey mind strengthens with practice too, like a muscle, through repetition, and offers promises:
We will miss the sweet smiles of those around us while we internally bash politicians we hate.
We will forget we ate breakfast because we were watching TV while the spoon auto-piloted to the mouth and we never tasted the blueberries.
We will be tired. Vagabonding is exhausting.
It’s also good to stop every now and then to ask, “how does my monkey mind swing? What are its favorite branches? How can I land?” Because without ways to return to just here, just now, our heads will fill with clouds that never clear. That is a promise.