This month we explore the theme of Mindfulness. Mindfulness is a spiritual practice with Buddhist origins; it invites us to focus our attention on the present moment with non-judgmental awareness. Mindfulness is an important theme to explore in November. Holidays such as Veterans Day and Thanksgiving encourage reflection, a mindfulness of gifts, sacrifice, joy, and pain. We might notice more fully the movement of nature– from trees bursting with color to branches brown and barren. We might become mindful of the preciousness of each moment, the sacredness of our lives, by slowing down and focusing attention.
As mindfulness has gained popularity in American culture, it has become commodified and promoted in a variety of settings– from self-help books to corporate offices– as a tool for personal growth and stress reduction. In the process, mindfulness has changed in its very nature and intent. Critics have termed the explosion of this money-making trend “McMindfulness”.
But there is another kind of mindfulness that is socially engaged and active in the world. Engaged mindfulness moves us beyond the privatized bubble, to face the conditions that create oppression on a systemic level. When I think of the mindfulness I wish to embody, I turn to Zen teachers– like Thich Nhat Hanh, Bernie Glassman, and angel Kyodo Williams–for guidance. These teachers demonstrate how to bear witness to human greed, violence, and injustice. They teach us how to mindfully witness and transform suffering beginning with ourselves.
Our Unitarian Universalist community invites us to explore engaged mindfulness: to face the seeds of suffering in ourselves and in our world with nonjudgmental mindful awareness. How have we embodied white supremacist values? How have we made accommodations to a dehumanizing, materialistic culture? Spiritual teachings remind us: the world is in me, and I am in the world. How, then, might I transform the world, beginning with myself? May we continue to explore these questions and act mindfully together.