Mindfulness Amidst Chaos

/ 18 January 2014

A section of resources for the Peace Studies Capstone (the course is named Is Peace Possible?, the central question we’ll be exploring) are regarding mindfulness. These include both a brief description of mindfulness and links to mobile apps to help in being mindful (Mindfulness Bell is the iOS one linked). Mindfulness is the practice of being aware to the present moment. It is a practice that touches every moment of daily life. The sounds of a soft bell, or the like, at certain intervals can assist in staying aware of what is around you and staying true to the task you’re currently needing to do. It is in harmony with the world and helps to keep you calm and at peace.

With just the smallest idea of mindfulness, having briefly explored it when glancing at the capstone resources and the first capstone class session (we’ll be doing mindfulness meditations at the start of each class session, truly the capstone is more of an “experience” than a “class” in some ways) I realized how much of a central role it can play in helping to deal with the chaos of daily life, as chaos indeed is what our modern world has become. But that is not all I realized. It also came to me that, in more than just a sense, I’ve already been practicing such a thing my entire time at CSB/SJU. In choosing where to live on campus these four years I haven’t avoided staying close enough to the Abbey Bell Banner that I can hear the bells when lying in bed, indeed I’ve actively welcomed staying that close. Beyond a way of telling time the bells act as a call to mindfulness, as that soft bell that connects us to be aware of the present moment. It begins to feel weird when there are those few buggy times that the bells don’t ring as they should (something that only those of us with the entire schedule memorized and who are in earshot of them from our dorm rooms would even recognize), and that seems now to me to be tied to having subconsciously used the bells as a way of centering myself. Maybe I don’t do this all the time, but certainly the bells are a consistent external sound that helps to focus us on the present needs especially when we’re most off track with an impending deadline.

Where daily life is chaotic we must all find a way to be aware of the present moment, so that we can go through our tasks of each day without the burdens of the future impeding us nor the faults of our past making us depressed with ourselves. Such a practice is a basic way to stay healthy in that we can act clearly in the present moment, aware of and in harmony with our world, and not get stuck in the fog. We cannot be productive if we are just trying to find our way in foggy weather, so even just trying to be mindful as we work will make the final products we produce of all that much better quality.

Having something that is a standard daily rhythm is a method of centering yourself with the world in this way. That is why there are apps to ring a tibetan bell at set intervals, and why the bells ringing from the Abbey Bell Banner are equally such a method of rhythm. Sound is the easiest such thing, but really it just need be something that you don’t initiate each time (say, red streetlights when driving, etc.). For me the Abbey Bell Banner bells will do whilst I’m here “at home” at SJU, but at other times the apps that exist may achieve the same end should there not be a regular enough other physical or metaphorical bell to be a call to mindfulness.

Chaos is the most unproductive and relentless of states of being in this world. Mindfulness is a way for us to each individually counter chaos with a clear way of centered existence in harmony with the world. It is a practice, that now that I recognize I’ve been doing some form of it already to an extent, I urge everyone to do. It will make your life clearer and easier to glide through, and hey, it likely is prerequisite to peace truly being possible. As a simple practice there is nothing in it that will hurt, and it may even help center others who are around you if you are yourself being mindful of our world and the task at hand.

I would also venture to assume that this mindfulness is inherently at the heart of the lifestyle of the members of all monastic communities, and is a central tenet of the original forms of the religions we see today, not just of the monastic Rules. Therefore, is peace possible? Yes, but looking to the monks that live among us (quite literally as neighbors for me) it feels as if a component that must change to enable peace is a shift from chaos to mindfulness. Thus I will end this post with repeating my urge for everyone to practice mindfulness in their own personal forms of it because it stands to make those around you feel better as well, not just yourself.