It has been a good day, a day just for today, not yesterday and not tomorrow, a rare day. I read. I painted. I hiked. I enjoyed every moment. And yes, the sky seemed brighter and the air fresher. I returned to the dining hall after my hike and fetched my latest issue of Tricycle and opened it to page 33, “What’s So Great About Now?” by Cynthia Thatcher.
“It’s true that strong concentration can seem to intensify colors, sounds, and so forth. But concentration alone doesn’t lead to insight or awakening. To say that mindfulness makes the winter sky more sublime, or the act of doing the dished an exercise in wonder, chafes at the First Noble Truth.
“This myth points to a misunderstanding of the role of mindfulness. Mindfulness, accompanied by clear comprehension, differs from ordinary awareness. Rather than seeing the conventional features of object more clearly, mindfulness goes beyond them to perceive something quite specific – the ultimate characteristic common to all formations, good or bad. There are only three of these: impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and non-selfness. (Note that beauty isn’t among them.) Mindfully noting mental and physical phenomena, we learn that they arise only to pass away. In the deepest sense, we cannot manipulate or actually own them. These traits are unwelcome – unsatisfactory. So the more mindfulness one has, the clearer dukkha becomes.” –Cynthia writes.
So you mean the more I pay attention the more suffering I see? The more I witness the First Noble Truth which states life is suffering? Well, thanks for bursting my bubble, lady. And here I was quite happy being mindful of my sublime winter sky.
But wait, just a sec! So the first hallmark of existence is impermanence, and because things are impermanent we find them unsatisfactory, forgetting all about the third hallmark, non-self, for a moment. What if we see the impermanence but we don’t mind? What if the impermanence doesn’t equate with dissatisfaction? Perhaps a thing could even be satisfactory because of its transience? I have questions and concerns about the author’s interpretation, but as I read further I understand the point and I feel less and less petulant.
“So, rather than frantically looking for loopholes in the teachings, isn’t it wiser to accept that mindfulness won’t make the plum any sweeter or the kettle any brighter? But here’s the hopeful part – the more we practice mindfulness, the less we’ll care about sweetness or brightness…This is not numb indifference but true liberation. We’ll have learned the great secret that nonattachment is a lightness and freedom complete in itself, separate from the impressions pouring in through the sense-doors.
“…Then let us be mindful, not to imbue the pan of suds with a fabricated beauty, but for the reason the Buddha intended: to see the distress of clinging until we behold the plum – nibbana. [nirvana]” –She concludes.
I see the wisdom of this as a path to nirvana, but it makes me wonder what her understanding of the nature of nirvana is. I have always taken a delight in understanding that nirvana is now. All that separates us from it is an ability to see it clearly, without grasping, aversion, or delusion – all of which mindfulness is to help eradicate. Nirvana does not suffer from the three hallmarks of existence, it is permanent, satisfactory, and, well, whatever the antonym of non-self is (the most difficult concept to understand) though I know it’s not self. Very strange, that.
To be able to find nirvana in every moment if through mindfulness we see only dukkha, suffering, in every moment seems counter-intuitive.