“What’s on your mind?” – Learning to apply mindfulness closely

“What’s on your mind this morning?” asks Facebook, helpfully, as it asks everybody, as you contemplate the empty box that invites you to share a post, photo, video, or link.

Good question, that. Though, as I apply careful attention to that question – putting into practice the shamatha I started to learn about yesterday, during day 1.5 of this week’s silent Buddhist meditation retreat led by Dr B. Alan Wallace – it strikes me that yes, while there are some things hovering lightly “on” my mind, it also seems more appropriate to refer to things – thoughts, sensations, feelings, phenomena – as “passing through” my mind.

So. What’s passing through my mind, then? Not much, this beautiful, crisp morning, its nip and clarity harbingers of the ongoing turn of the season. And that’s on purpose. Though part of me chuckles inside, at the wonderful paradox of feeling like I have been given to drink directly from the mouth of a torrent of erudite, precise, academic yet eminently practical, joyously funny, grounded, yet deceptively steely (or perhaps diamond-like rather than steel) wisdom, riven through with a radiance of integrity that emanated forth effortlessly from Alan as he led us through our first intense day of lectures and practice yesterday – all that, to comprehend and digest, and yet, ha! My mind is to be practiced, to be “at ease, still, and clear.” “Consciousness, hovering lightly (his words).”

Thanks, Alan.

He has been amazing. Content aside, there is such a marvellous Americanness about him – that quality that in all my knowledge of all the various cultures of this world, I have found so far the very best Americans to be peerless at – this incredible love and enthusiasm for their subject matter, rigorously acquired theoretical and practical wisdom, intensity, focused dedication to the pursuit of excellence without fear of embarrassment or that others will find you overly keen, flexibility and openness to others and accepting when one is wrong, a subtle blend of kindness and ability to champion and weave in others’ contributions yet, in their teaching clothed as brilliant storytelling, consistently demonstrate an undeniable edge of leadership.

That’s really hard to do, and to do well at that. I’ve only ever had one other tutor who was like this, at Oxford, and he was a visiting professor from Georgetown. He taught history and philosophy of science.

Alan comes from such similar threads, first having ordained as a Buddhist monk by H.H. the Dalai Lama himself after 14 years and emphasising the essential nature of Buddhism as an ancient yet current empirical mind science. He followed this with his degree at Amherst in physics and philosophy of science, then a doctorate at Stanford in religious studies. His current interests include philosophy of mind, psychology and neuroscience, which probably gives you an additional idea why over and above style the substance of him is for me simply thrilling.

Time to go. So grateful to be here, with all this passing through my mind, and more, and less, this morning. 

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