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Being Mindful of the World and Spirit by Alan Levin

In the whirling chaos of the world; in the whirling chaos of the mind, there is one thing you can control. Well, maybe not control, but choose to directly affect. You can choose where you pay attention and the quality of attention you give. The meditation practice of mindfulness develops your ability to bring attention to the present moment and cultivates an attitude of compassionate acceptance of whatever experiences arise.

Your experience in any moment is largely determined by the direction and quality of your attention. Yet, generally we are not paying attention to our attention. The experience you are having in this moment, as you read this article, depends on the degree to which you are focused on the message and the attitude with which you approach it. You may be very keenly attentive or mostly distracted (perhaps eating your lunch and thinking of what you will do later). You may be curious, skeptical, positively interested or cynical. The practice of mindfulness helps you to be aware of how you are paying attention, your attitudinal posture, something that is usually subliminal and not part of our active awareness.

The Present Moment

Anyone who has attempted to be in the present moment, even for a moment, knows it is easier said than done. What happened moments ago, what happened years ago, what is going to happen next or far into the future occupies your mind and takes you away from here and now. There are many theories about why this is so, but it seems fairly universal that, in fact, this is the way the mind is. Often described as chattering monkeys or wild horses in the writings of meditation teachers, your mind has a mind of its own, governed more by unconscious habit than by your purposeful choosing. Wishing it were otherwise does not make it so. Mindfulness teaches us to accept things the way they are, including our mind. This acceptance is what allows it to transform.

Attention can be focused externally or internally—noticing and recognizing what is going on around you or being aware of your internal process (such as your feelings, thoughts and body sensations). Again, in reading this article, you may notice slight sensations of contraction or expansion as you resonate with or feel challenged by what you are reading. Similarly, when you are speaking with another person, hear what they are saying and see their body language, you can choose to be mindful of your reactions to them as you like or dislike what they are saying.

Expanding the scope of your attention allows you to be aware of both internal and external experience at the same time. You may focus on one of your senses, such as hearing the sounds present in the moment, and still have awareness of your breath and the sensations in your body, of the movements of your chest and belly. Meditation brings about an expansion of the field of your awareness as you pay attention to a wider range of experiences happening in the present moment.

Global Awareness

A wider, more expanded field of awareness brings about a shift in focus from purely personal concerns towards an inclusion of more global realities and responsibilities. This means you are more able to respond consciously instead of reacting according to habit. You grow in empathy for the people, animals, plants and all living beings around you, including Mother Earth. Likewise, you experience a shift in the awareness of your internal process towards the deeper immanence of spiritual presence. You recognize that through all the madness, the chaos, the confusion and darkness, there is the light of pure being-ness, the basic goodness, the great love.

Alan Levin is a licensed psychotherapist with a practice in Nyack. Levin has been studying and teaching approaches to spiritual development for over 40 years. He can be reached at 271-3623 or alevin@sacredriverhealing.org or by visiting SacredRiverHealing.org.

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