Professor Bradley Lewis
Mindfulness and Mysticism
December 17, 2017
Mindfulness and Mysticism
There is a difference between mysticism and religion. As Karl Marx once said, “Man makes religion, religion does not make man”. It is commonly forgotten that mysticism and religion are not one and the same. While religion does hold mystical qualities at its core, it provides one with a set of standards, moral codes, and rules to follow. Mysticism, on the contrary, cannot be defined. As humans, we like to confine it with words like “meditation” and “spirituality;” when truly, mysticism is the practice of “coming home to yourself” (Kabat-Zinn), while mindfulness is “the art of living” (Kabat-Zinn 33). These days, the lines between spirituality and religion have been blurred and we forget that one does not need religion to come close to God. Mystical experience goes beyond (should not be equated with) religious experience—it is also important in philosophy, politics, and the arts.
Because the difference between spiritualty and religion has been obscured, people often forget that one can have a mystical experience without any attachment to religion. This attachment has been derived from sheer laziness and the desire to have the answers without wanting to go look for them. Religion is of assistance to that sort of individual because it lays the rules out for you, with things like “The Ten Commandments,” for example, which presents you with a list of what and what not to do as a righteous Christian. However, like Sigmund Freud said, “Religion is an illusion and it derives its strength from the fact that it falls in with our instinctual desires.” While religion does make it easy for those who are looking to find themselves, to find themselves; it puts you on a leash. As soon as you subscribe to a religion, you put yourself in a box that you cannot step outside of—unless you choose to no longer follow that religion.
This idea, specifically, is what causes the problem with religion. It is a box. “Traditions that we now classify as ‘religions’ have always provided a means of controlling the thought-processes of people” (Carette 6). With the power given to religions, they are able to control the mindsets of civilizations. Thinking back on a time when Church and State were united, societies of people were subjected to religious persecution for defiance, e.g. The Pilgrims who fled from the Church of England. This notion of Church and State not only creates “the box;” but also ensures that you stay in it, because if the Church creates the rules and the State enforces them, you are not free. You are bound and subject to rules, morals, and standards created out of someone else’s best interest.
But, isn’t mindfulness all about finding your best interest? While religion gives guidance, it is not necessary for ascension. Just because one is not religious, does not mean they are not conscious. For example, just because is not parked in a garage does not subtract it from being a car. Religion is a tool, not a crutch. With that being said, religion and politics are two separate entities. In order to merge it, religion must be within politics; but if you title it “religion,” it can no longer exist within the same bubble because it must have its own. “There is no essence or definitive meaning to terms like spirituality or religion” (Carette 3). Carette states this in her article, Selling Spirituality to show that religion, and specifically spirituality, is something that exists within; a theme that we’ve seen repeatedly, just spoken in a different tongue. As stated in the Holy Bible, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (Consiglio 1). This statement is so powerful because only you know what is right for you, as you exist within your own temple and only you know what is occurring. Therefore, although religion may help; everyone must decide for themselves where their path should lead. Your life cannot be lived for you unless you relinquish your power.
Being as though every person has their own religion and every spirit must guide itself, there should be no surprise of the importance of mysticism in philosophy, politics, and the arts! Christophe André even discusses mindfulness in his article, Mindfulness Through Art explaining its definition and applying it to several paintings, “Mindfulness means intensifying our presence to the moment, stilling ourselves to absorb it, instead of escaping it or trying to alter it, through thought or action ” (18). Kabat-Zinn honors this exact same practice in his book Full Catastrophe Living as “actively tuning in to each moment in an effort to remain awake and aware from one moment to the next” (Kabat-Zinn 6). Evidently, mindfulness is an art that can be applied in any moment; not just meditation, but one can even take that practice and apply it to their craft, their thought process, and their entire being. Kabat-Zinn refers to it as “the art of living” (Kabat-Zinn 33).
The beauty of applying mindfulness and mysticism to one’s craft is that it brings advancement in both character and craft. As Jean Robertson and Craig McDaniel put it in their book, Themes of Contemporary Art, “the incorporation of ritual, ceremony, and other forms of highly patterned behavior into the practice of art can bestow the artist the role of high priest or shaman” (332). Both Robertson and McDaniel confirm that mindfulness is more than a practice, but a state of being that is used to develop and expand you. The fact of the matter is that mindfulness and mysticism is an individual matter, and it does not apply to art, politics, or philosophy, if it does not apply to that person. It is as important in philosophy as it is to the philosopher.
As follows, many artists and activists not only incorporate mindfulness into their craft, but ensure that they practice “mindful meditation” (Kabat-Zinn 6) in its entirety as well. Joanna Macy examines several different types of meditations, specifically for activists, but can be used in meditation. She discusses meditation on death, loving kindness, compassion, mutual power, and mutual recognition—similar to Kabat-Zinn’s “seven foundational attitudinal elements of mindfulness practice” (30). Some of which are letting go, compassion, and loving-kindness. Again, Macy and Kabat-Zinn are making similar claims, but in different manners. Donald Rothberg continues this pattern in his article Buddhism and Social Transformation quoting, “the essence of nonviolence is Love” (164), similar to Thomas Merton who states, “only the Spirit acts in pure Love” (66).
Across the board, there are direct parallels at the essence of each text. While mysticism is an individual experience, there is undoubtedly a fundamental core at the heart of each text. While the Christian refers to it as God and the Hindu as Krishna, both parties believe in mindfulness, meditation, and LOVE. There is always a common advocacy for love, at the root of every religion and every belief. Although we may disagree culturally, at the core of every person is a heart. We are here to Love, not judge. As we are all one, existing within this pool of “interconnectedness” (Kabat-Zinn 187), there is no room for separation. As Rothberg states, “Spiritual ignorance is understood most basically as the deep (and generally unconscious) belief or assumption that there is a separate, independent self and separate, independent others” (167).
André, Christophe. Mindfulness: 25 Ways to Live in the Moment through Art. London: Rider Bourn, 2014. Print.
Carette, Jeremy, and Richard King. Selling Spirituality: The Silent Takeover of Religion. London: Routledge, 2004. Print.
Freud, Sigmund. New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. N.p.: n.p., 1933. Print.
Macy, Joanna. World as Lover, World as Self. Berkeley: Parallax, 2007. Print.
Marx, Karl. A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. N.p.: n.p., 1843. Print.
Robertson, Jean, and Craig McDaniel. Themes of Contemporary Art. New York: Oxford, 2013. Print.
Rothberg, Donald. Awakening for All Beings. N.p.: Syracuse UP, 2001. Print.
Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Full Catastrophe Living: How to Cope with Stress, Pain and Illness Using Mindfulness Meditation. London: Piatkus, 2013. Print.
Merton, Thomas. Thomas Merton: Essential Writings. New York: Orbis, 2000. Print.