Sunday, March 3, 2013

Mindful of What?

Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at
March 3, 2013
                I have recently begun trying to understand what Buddhist practitioners in particular mean by “mindfulness.”  I’m told it resonates with what I mean by a peacemaking attitude.  A pair of “Humankind” ( segments I listened to this morning on NPR, on surviving with cancer, concluded with a survivors’ testimonials to the value of gaining mindfulness through meditation, which helped resolve a nagging feeling I have had:  that I am hearing and reading mindfulness described in two mutually exclusive ways, one of which I heard on “Humankind,” the other that I have felt I shared with others in victim offender mediation, in the classroom, and at home.
                My aspiration should I be diagnosed with a malignancy is not to discover it until it is so advanced that I will suffer minimal guilt and recrimination when I ask my doctors for palliative care so that I can live out my life in relative enjoyment of my surroundings rather than enduring treatment.  I feel blessed by the companionship of many dear people who have chosen treatment and survived decades.  And who among us does not know someone enduring treatments with hope and courage at this very moment?  The power of positive thinking can only be good medicine for those who are on this journey.  And when some survivors I heard today tell us how much mindfulness helps take their minds off being poisoned, cut and burned, bless the spirit of mindfulness.
                This mindfulness is familiar to me.  It is the mindfulness ritual abuse survivors have described saving their sanity: the “person” or “alter personality” in them that “took me to a different place.”  A dear friend, deJoly LaBrier, has put up pictures that part of her painted of beautiful, peaceful, lush places her guardian alter took her to as she was being tortured, which you can see at  (She also describes the decades’ long process of the coming out of her many parts, to form a community.  Once she was a multiple to survive, now she survives as a “onesie.”)
                More generally, I’m thinking this is the kind of therapeutic mindfulness that helps one escape from the demands and anxieties of life.  The psychiatric label for it is dissociation.  Common terms I hear for it are “tuning out” or “zoning out.”  One practical use for dissociation I find is to rise above taking personal  offense over being called names.  Dissociation also enables me to sit still through boring performances.  So I’m not knocking this form of mindfulness.  I’m just thinking that the kind of mindfulness I call synergistic is what I heard “anti-gang” worker Father Greg Boyle describe this morning on “On Being” as “here it now”—dissociating from all thoughts of what needs to be done or anxious about by taking in what the people here and now may be asking of you, might hope for you to hear, for signs of reassurance from them that they see you are listening, that you are genuinely curious about where they are coming from.  It’s analogous to the skill I learned (the hard way) about being examined in front of a judge or jury:  Just answer the question.  I also experience this form of mindfulness as letting go of being defensive, or of making a point.
                Coping with violence and pain one cannot escape calls for one form of violence.  Transforming violence calls for another.  Or so it seems to me now.  Love and peace--hal

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