By Brian Thompson
My name is Brian Thompson, a mindfulness practitioner and recent graduate from Lesley University’s Mindfulness Studies Program. Mindfulness has become a part of my everyday life. However, it’s only in understanding my origins that such information can truly be understood.
I was raised Catholic, but for many years my ideas of self, God, and the sacred were at ends. The sacred can be a difficult thing for anyone, let alone a child, to come into a relationship with. It’s a lot of pressure for a 9-year-old to balance both the complexities of childhood and striving to secure a spot in Heaven for his eternal soul. In short, there was this perceived pressure to do “right” by a God defined by the experiences of others. And so, begins the narrative of living life “the right way.”
Setting goals and designing structure are important to our growth and development. However, we often tend to hyper-emphasize the goal and blindly walk through the process. In our attempts to “do right,” we are asleep to our moment to moment experiences and the possibility that the things we seek are present in the now. We live daily life in the realm of stories, thoughts about the past, and our dreams of the possible future. The present moment, no matter what we may be talking about, never seems to be “good enough.”
Back to God and the sacred, these concepts represented to me the highest ideals, resting in thoughts of perfection. The problem with “ideas of perfection” are how one knows when, or if, they are truly experienced. How do we know what we think we know? Pondering these questions was my first conscious engagement with mindfulness and sparked my relationship with self-observation and the sacred.
Mindfulness has been defined as paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. Engaging with mindfulness suggests an active practitioner, a choice to be present to what is happening in the now. At age 25, I had what I like to call my “God Experience.” In short, it was a sincere and nonjudgmental investigation of my life and a questioning of my actions and motives.
Until that moment, I had lived my life hoping my decisions were considered acceptable in the public eye; but probably more significantly, acceptable in the eyes of a God I had no conscious direct relationship with. I wanted to feel good enough and believe that I had been making all the right decisions in my life. However, as I reflected on where I was in my current moment, there was the realization that I may never know. And if I may never know, could I accept my present experience as being enough as is?
Something amazing happens when we choose to live in the moment. In accepting our experiences in the now, we allow the opportunity for the moment to be enough. By staying mindful of the present, what is experienced can be all there is and, in this way, can embody all those things we hold most dear to our hearts. Our lives can be viewed as they are and our actions can be made from the present moment and not from expectations of an unknown future or thoughts from an unsettling past.
We may never know what the future may hold, that mystery will always remain. But with mindfulness, we can embody the qualities we hold most dear in our everyday lives. We can meet life with an open heart of compassion, understanding, and playful curiosity. We can learn, grow, and change as we come into relationship with the things we may experience, while still recognizing we may not know what happens next. The choice to “do right” no longer stems from hope for correct actions, but rather a choice to offer these qualities by free will. Each aspect of life becomes sacred as it is all a part of a greater mystery that continues to reveal itself through every new person, experience, and encounter.
For a long time, God always remained outside of myself, left in the realm of mystery. But viewing the world with mindfulness, God is experienced always. God is the ability to face whatever may arise in the moment with compassion and equanimity, not for the desired outcome but because I can embody those qualities with my being. God is the courage to continue to face the unknown with loving words and actions, not because of fear but the realization that peace can be brought to fruition through each of us. I use the name God because that was the name taught to me when I was a child, but ultimately what is being discussed here is a relationship with our life. Mindfulness is a way for us to come into this relationship and potentially see the depth of beauty that has always been present.