Life as it Matters
I continue to spend more time reading Krista Tippett’s book, Becoming Wise. It is a great, rich resource because it is filled with so many different peoples’ journey to wisdom. Some of the folks I actually know, many of them I have heard about and others are completely new. I find that I am reading the book in bits. It is too much to do forty or fifty pages. There is too much richness and too much to absorb. Wisdom takes time to acquire.
One of her chapters is entitled, “Flesh.” In that chapter it has a selection from Jacob Kabat-Zinn. I have heard of him, but have never met him. I know he is a scientist from M.I.T. and that he has done a ton of stuff on meditation. He is most famous for beginning Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction approach in the 1980s. In his comments to Tippett he acknowledges the mindfulness focus offers “a chance to continually return to what’s deepest and best in ourselves.”
He continues to say, “It’s not something you have to get by going to Harvard or working in the vineyards for 20 years; you’ve already got it. And the body is a big part of it.” That makes it sound like normal people---you and I---have a chance. We don’t have to be smart or a saint. I am lured into reading more.
Then come a couple sentences, which I want to quote, that nail what’s important to me. Kabat-Zinn claims “the practice of mindfulness, whether you’re doing it in some formal way, meditating in a sitting position or lying down doing a body scan or doing mindful hatha yoga---the real practice is living your life as if it really mattered from moment to moment. The real practice is life itself.” I find the sentiment here compelling and reassuring. Let’s unpack it.
I am reassured because he suggests I don’t have to be an expert or, even, that I have to do mindfulness right to get somewhere. I know at my university yoga is an “in thing.” Faculty, staff and students are all trying some version of it. I suspect far more people are doing that than they are doing traditional Christian disciplines. What Kabat-Zinn offers is confidence that doing some version of mindfulness will have an effect.
I know we could do a short study on what is mindfulness. Let it suffice here to say for me mindfulness has to be with being aware and, more specifically, paying attention. Mindfulness is learning to be present. The opposite is being absent-minded. I know what that looks like! Mindfulness is doing something, to be sure, but much of it is also learning to be. In fact, we normally will talk about “being mindful.” With that in mind, we can turn to the sentence from Kabat-Zinn that is profound for me.
He says the trick is knowing “the real practice is living your life as if it really mattered from moment to moment.” “Yes and amen,” I want to scream. I realize, however, that Kabat-Zinn is not offering any specifics and that is fine with me. The trick is living life as if it really mattered. I suppose most folks think they are doing this, but if pressed, they might acknowledge they are not really pulling it off. So the first step is self-honesty. Am I actually living life as if it really mattered? If the answer is negative, then we have a choice to change. We have a chance to begin living mindfully. We can do it; but we have to choose it and, then, practice it.
It’s not like taking a pill and feeling better. It is not easy and it is not immediate. That’s the bad news for a “quick fix, make it easy” generation. You can do it, but you have to do it. The only other choice is not to do it or to operate with the illusion that you are doing it.
The second thing is knowing what a life that matters actually looks like. This means to me I have to clear about the meaning and purpose of my life. Fortunately, Kabat-Zinn does not suggest there is only one answer to this. But we do need a good, fitting answer. It can be a general answer, such as “my life will matter if I dedicate it to God.” If this is my answer, then what I do and how I do it has to reflect that commitment. It is not a theology issue; it is a life issue.
I know it has taken me some time to figure out what a life that matters will be for me. In my younger years I was too ego-focused to have a good answer. I know it is easy to get what we said we wanted and, then, realize it was not what we really wanted. Wanting to be rich, famous, etc. is usually not good long-term purposes for life. We can get this and not have a life that ultimately matters.
For me a life that matters is centrally tied up with God. And to be mindful means living with that focus. The real practice is living life is as if it really mattered from moment to moment. I am glad to know this. And now I am trying to practice it.