Mindfulness and Me: A Confession of Failure

Roadside Musings

Mindfulness and Me: A Confession of Failure

Like any form of meditation, mindfulness meditation training can be a different experience for everyone. Rabbi Rami reflects upon his own problems with the practice.

Mindfulness is one of the central practices promoted by Cheryl Pallant in her new book Ecosomatics: Embodiment Practices for a World in Search of Healing. That is to be expected: mindfulness is one of the most popular forms of meditation in the United States today. Also, to be expected, as I prepared for our conversation on the Spirituality+Health podcast, was my need to ask her about mindfulness practice. My problem is this: I suck at mindfulness.

As I understand it, mindfulness is the practice of focusing my attention on what I am sensing, feeling, and thinking at any given moment without commenting on or entertaining judgments about what I am sensing, feeling, and thinking at a given moment.

When I began my mindfulness meditation training, I was introduced to the practice with the now ubiquitous raisin chewing exercise. My teacher gave me a raisin and told me to chew it slowly and meticulously over and over until it was reduced to almost nothing. As the chewing continued, I was to pay attention to what I was sensing, feeling, and thinking. After only a couple of chews what I was sensing, feeling, and thinking was an overwhelming desire to vomit. And I love raisins. It was over-chewing that made me sick.

My problem with mindfulness practice extends beyond raisin chewing. As I attend to my sensing, feeling, and thinking, I am more curious about the “I” that is attending and the “I” that is noticing this attending “I” and the “I” that is aware of the noticing “I,” and the “I” that is aware of this aware “I” ad infinitum. There is always an unobserved “I” just behind the observed “I”; there is always an unseen seer just behind the seen. It is this seer—or for me Seer—that I or “I” am most interested in.

To me this Seer is the Ehyeh/I AM of Exodus 3:14, the I AM of John 14:6, the Aham Brahsmani (I am the Absolute) of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, and the Ana al-Haqq (I am Truth) of the Sufi saint Mansur al-Halaj. This Seer is the infinite, universal Mind or Consciousness comprising all reality. This Seer is my truest Self, and yours: one Self in infinite forms sentient and nonsentient, animate and inanimate, living and dead, material and nonmaterial.

When I meditate and notice what I am sensing, feeling, and thinking at any given moment, I ask: Who is sensing, who is feeling, who is thinking, and who is asking? I don’t receive an answer. Instead, I realize that “Rami” is an object of a nameless Seer. I’m not deluded into imagining “I” am that Seer as in “Rami” is That, but rather the opposite: That is “I,” That is “Rami,” the true meaning of the Sanskrit Tat Tvam Asi (Chandogya Upanishad).

Someone asked me the other day to articulate everything I have gleaned from my almost sixty years of religious study and contemplative practice. “Give me your elevator speech,” he said. “I don’t need an elevator,” I said. Everything I’ve learned, everything I’ve experienced, and everything I teach can be stated in one Yiddish sentence: alles iz Gott—everything is a happening of God.

Listen to the podcast that inspired this essay here.

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