Late afternoon on a sunny autumn day and I’m sitting by a pond in the slanting sunbeams. The light is mellow, warm, and softly glowing on the foliage of the trees and shrubs around me. There is peace. Not the peace of silence, because traffic murmurs not far off on the main road and a neighbour’s dog barks a greeting to its returning owner, but the peace of the rightness of things. All of the sounds, smells, sights, all of my senses are receptive and alive, and all is as it should be. This is the harmony of just being. I am observing, nothing more, just simply observing what is.
I started – some twenty minutes before – by trying to just observe my breath as it came and went through my body. But this had not been an easy thing to do. At first, I found myself making mental comments, announcing that the out-breath had begun, and then that it should to be a certain length. Then I told myself that it had finished and started a debate about whether there should be a suitable pause before the in-breath began again. What was a suitable pause, and should I be aiming to make both breaths the same length? But then I realised that I was not simply observing – in fact, I had started a dialogue from the very outset.
So I started again. This time I had managed to get through a couple of cycles of breath before I started commenting, assessing, and debating. Part of this was to congratulate myself on not commenting! But before that, just briefly, I had experienced something quite wonderful, peace and a calmness that was extraordinary for its subtle depth.
Holding on to that memory, I contented myself with single cycles, just one out and one in a breath at a time. This time it was easier; just dealing with one breath carried none of the concerns of duration, of keeping going. Now I was able to resist mental interruptions and the peace and calmness became continuous for a while. It was quite simple really; just watching the breath as it is, without controlling it in some way or talking to myself about it. What brings this peace and calmness is allowing the breath to work on its own, just as it has since the day I was born. Even when I’m asleep my breath goes in and out without me controlling it or making comments. All I have to do is simply observe.
But at some point, there would be the inevitable intrusion into my watchfulness, some noise or sensation that distracted my attention. At first, this felt like another form of failure. I was no longer mentally verbalising about my breath but the motor bike with the defective silencer just had to be commented on – didn’t it? Or the sudden itching on my neck, which was beyond my control – surely. I can’t be expected to ignore these things – can I?
No, but I’m not ignoring my breathing either. The idea is not to ignore things but to simply observe them. It doesn’t matter what those things are I simply need to watch them and allow them to be – to exist just as I exist. There is no need to start verbalising thoughts about them, those thoughts only result in me excusing myself for no longer being content to observe. And where are the peace and the calmness then?
But now I have passed all that, I have given everything its due, contented myself that all that is happening is simply what is. There has emerged rightness to the world at this time, in this place, and between me and the space around me. I am an observer, nothing more, nothing less, and peace and calmness are both within and outside of me.
I observe the effect of the sunlight on the water as it plays along the margins of the pond. A swarm of mosquitoes cavort above the lilies, in a pattern all of their own sense and purpose. Wasps buzz in and out of secret places looking for winter lodgings for their queen. Birds flit from tree to tree calling their personal messages of life. A soft breeze plays exquisite sensations on my face and hands. I watch, I observe contentedly, and I am at peace, at one.
There is no sense of fullness, no sense of emptiness, no sense of this or that proportion to my experience – to my peace. It is what it is, and that changes as it will, I just watch. Yet there is more beauty in the world than we will ever experience at any given time. The world is harmony, my experience is total. Then a new element enters my world, something unexpected, and something magic; something that draws me beyond myself.
An iridescent blue and green Dragonfly hovers above the water before my watchful gaze. It is joined by another, and then four more. They hover in juxtaposition to each other before swinging at incredible speed into new arrangements. This is a dance, the very dance of life, and I am its silent witness.
My sense of being overflows, unable to be contained in the ordinary mind – however silent and still - I am somehow enlarged, removed one step back from my normal spatial awareness. I am the observer, a me that is usually so interwoven with its thinking and judgments, thoughts, and comments that it does not know itself. But now it is the very centre of awareness.
This is mindfulness. It is the subject of the first session of the audio course 'The Heart of Meditation'. The practice of being mindful, of simply observing, has many rewarding effects. And it can be done in virtually any situation. Once we can learn to let go of our interfering thoughts and simply observe we are not only entering peace and calmness but also accepting things as they are. This is a powerful tool in the quest for spiritual development. It helps us to cut through our conditioning and find the greater reality which is otherwise obscured by it.