What I teach can sometimes feel daunting, first and foremost because the brain is the most complex object in the known universe, the mind even more so, and there is no way around complexity in teaching and learning about the mind. I also consider my students experts in their own subjective experience of being alive. This does not mean they are experts in harnessing their full mindfulness potential, but if they come to my programs, I assume they are serious about wanting to penetrate the depths of their minds, and I owe them the most expert and advanced knowledge and experience I can muster. One of my students, who like many others struggled with the complexity of the material, once wrote the following after having been frustrated by a ‘dumbed down’ lecture she heard elsewhere: “I was wrong about ‘dumbing it down’ … and you were right not to. Should I just get used to saying that?”
I admit, my language used to be quite atrociously and unnecessarily convoluted, and I hope the rich feedback I received from many dedicated students and team members has improved this situation. However, there is no way around the challenge of having to create new categories, concepts and sometimes words, when we penetrate new knowledge spaces that were not accessible before. You just cannot use the same vocabulary to describe and convey information about the mind as you do in daily life when you go shopping or picking up the kids from school. Having to invest effort in learning new concepts is therefore an inevitable part of the process of deep learning in any field imaginable.
If we want to learn, we just established that we have to get used to reading without the expectation of immediate understanding, and that is the easy part. What’s more difficult is to rein in impatience and desperation for immediate results. The point I want to make here is the distinction between basic and applied mindfulness, the same distinction science makes between the basic (pure) and applied sciences. Some of what I have been exploring in blogs and courses belongs to the reflective dimension of basic mindfulness that does not provide direct and immediate benefits in any technical or practical way, and yet is fundamental to the cause and intrinsically rewarding.
For the most part people come to mindfulness with a significant degree of suffering, and they understandably hope for results. The fact that mindfulness has now penetrated the hallowed walls of medicine mobilized additional scrutiny regarding efficacy and scientific rigor. ‘Evidence-based’ is the new buzzword, and when it comes to people’s health, one sure does not want to mess around with quackery. These expectations for evidence-based results are the ones inspiring applied mindfulness and everything that is written in this scientific stream. Applied mindfulness is practical and generally quite accessible, therefore also most sought after. It is about the exploration of what works within the boundaries of what we already know, and there are clear expectations of results. This is no different from the applied sciences, where strange, far-out concepts are used to put a working cell phone into your hand. Applied specialized knowledge tends to yield immediate effects and get expressed in declarative certitudes. Look at any advertisement for mindfulness or any invitations to engage in it – it all sounds very characteristically practical and results-oriented: ‘How to …. bring peace into your life; 10 tips for ….; immediate results with ….; here is what works: ….’.
With basic science we enter a very different mindset. Scientists would be unlikely to argue against the importance of basic science; it provides the necessary knowledge for a better understanding of reality and all the material applied science needs to advance technology. But most people have no interest nor any relationship to basic science. Basic science usually has no direct relationship to and no direct impact on everyday life. It tends to be seen as an indulgent luxury to be pursued when you have nothing better to do. Why care about black holes other than for curiosity? Humanity has survived over 100,000 years without knowledge of them, so the argument goes. And yet, our civilization would not be where it is without the kind of inquisitive mindset that fuels basic science.
We can apply a similar distinction in our field; basic mindfulness as it would be called is equally important as its practical cousin. Its hallmark of reflection for reflection’s sake is profound, provides the kind of interdisciplinary knowledge we need to thrive and informs the mindfulness journey at its very core. I am wondering whether in our mindfulness field we may be encountering similar challenges like the basic sciences do? Like the basic sciences, basic mindfulness does not show immediate results, and its benefits are slower to appear and less obvious. It raises more questions than answers and suggests restraint towards practical expectations. Hence, unlike applied mindfulness, basic mindfulness may as yet not get the same respect and be as popular, because it is about the exploration of elusive truths and of virtue in decision-making within the boundaries of the unknown, without any expectations of results or certainties about where we are going. Without it, though, none of the goods of applied mindfulness would be accessible. Besides, its engagement affords us an intrinsic sense of reward through peace and serenity.
Basic mindfulness may in fact be nothing more than the process by which we develop a human trait that only fairly recently has begun to find interest within the scientific community at large and psychology more specifically: Wisdom. Through wisdom we grow and find peace, because through wisdom we refine our capacity to access the full potential of human consciousness.
Copyright © 2018 by Dr. Stéphane Treyvaud. All rights reserved.