Letters: Mindfulness helps us discover deeper truths
Allan Feifer wrote an interesting and mostly welcome elegy of Americana and its successful election of a new president (See Nov. 12, 2020 Times “For love of country”). However, he presents two misconceptions that I would like to address.
First, he writes of Marx’s view of religion as the “opiate of the people” as if this is somehow negative. When Marx was writing, most Europeans were desperately poor and oppressed by their ruling classes. Religious leaders (who also did some of the oppressing) taught them that they should endure their suffering, be meek when the soldiers took their food or the bosses closed the factories. They were schooled to not complain, to not object, and that their reward would come in the afterlife. Of course, this is a comforting teaching, like an opiate dulling the pain, but one that the Republicans in America soundly rejected. This is what Marx was speaking to.
Second, he says that “Logic is superior to mindfulness.” I don’t understand this because to me, “logic” is just one of the objects of mind that “mindfulness” addresses.
I remember as a young Zen student learning to practice mindfulness how we would walk very slowly around the hall, breathing slowly and carefully, noticing the straw mat underfoot, the sound of birds waking up, the slow change of light as dawn became morning, the sound of the occasional car or motorcycle from the distant highway. My focus was inward, yet I was aware of all sounds, all movement around me, noticing how I was getting hungry and sometimes bored.
Mindfulness is not exciting, not entertaining, yet it does not deny action nor fun. Paying close attention to every aspect of life means discarding filters and preconceived notions that prevent us from “seeing things as they really are,” with ‘seeing’ being more with the mind than with the eyes. Actually, we humans have practiced mindfulness since time began; it is what allows us to learn, to progress. Mindfulness gives us our sense of self over time. Most people experience this with activities like brushing teeth; that moment of brushing connects one over the years.
On the other hand, a serious practice of mindfulness, one that successfully throws off the chains of mental habit and delusion, is a little bit dangerous. Our society makes up its narratives and constructs in order to function smoothly; a mindful person does not necessarily accept them. Deep practitioners of mindfulness are constantly discovering new and deeper truths, and live difficult lives where they have to find their own way. They are always observing the consequences of actions and perceiving what happens behind the masks. They do not believe in the stories society tells, but do not reject them as long as the stories turn into actions that are clearly successful.
So the stories Mr. Feifer tells must be examined in the full light of mindfulness, including logic, in order to determine if they are universally beneficial or just another opiate to make us feel better.