Woke Yet? There’s Hope for Our Myopia

hope woke wokeness

In the Eyes of the Woke Beholder

I know some folks who believe that the earth is flat. Although others consider their views a joke, they consider themselves woke.

So, too, academy-awarded actors who proclaim their enlightenment from their platform. They clasp the golden man and parrot the current political narratives. They would say they’re woke.

As do the many politicians who prove their woke-ness by publishing their pronouns and making progressive promises. And the news anchors weighing in with their opinions while claiming to be without bias. Even the ball players play the game with their broadcasted slogans and postures of woke-ness.

In his book, Waking Up, Sam Harris teaches mindfulness and meditation as remedies for sleepwalking through life. He and other enlightened gurus would say, ‘we’re woke.’

I think I’m woke. From my God to my politics, my eyes are certainly wide open.

We all think we’re seeing things as they really are. So we preach it, share it, tweet, and retweet it. We blog our truths and post our outrage, signaling to skeptics and fellow-believers alike: we, too, are woke.

Awake in the Matrix: Are there elephants in the room?

Hope for our woke-ness myopia

But how can we all be so sure? Perhaps some of our woke is myopia.

An atheist may be seeing just the tip of an elephant’s trunk. A philosopher’s view may encompass only the animal’s flank. A scientist, Hindu, or Muslim merely touches the tail. A Christian believes she sees the entire beast. Until it stomps on her from a place she wasn’t looking.

Hope for our woke-ness myopia

Admitting I may be near-sighted stirs up fear in me. Cognitive dissonance is quite uncomfortable. Do I double my efforts to prove my truth? Or do I make room for a shift in my views?

In The Matrix movie, Neo chose the red pill and awakened to a shocking reality. At some level, we are also seeking reality when we hunger for woke-ness. Some of us are suspicious that we haven’t yet tasted or touched the truth in its fullness. How can I be sure that my flavorful steak isn’t a convenient illusion?

Living With Tensions, Not Without Questions

Competing ideas have been around forever. Some are more dangerous than others. There is a place for fighting for what we know. Without One True Truth, we risk being left with nothingness. Without certainty, truth can become relative and meaningless.

You can’t go on “seeing through” things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. To “see through” all things is the same as not to see.                                                         C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

The Believer in Anything seeks to see through lies, abuses, and delusions to get to the truth. We’re certain that we’ve encountered the entire pachyderm when the shape of the thing makes sense to us. Believers in God and in a bigger story have found great solace and happiness in their assertions of ultimate truth.

But some people neglect nuance and get swept up in extreme ideas. Like a parasite of the mind, a system of belief can take command of our rationality and run its own agenda through our bodies and emotions. Millions upon millions died in Stalin’s gulags, Hitler’s holocaust, and Mao’s cultural revolution because dangerous ideologies took root in ordinary humans. Let’s not forget the many who have died at the hands of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and other ideological zealots. Too many people have become mindless, spineless, and ferocious perpetrators of atrocity.

A Plea for Humility: Can we all keep talking, please?

Humans will always have disagreements. Unlike some postmoderns, I do believe in ultimate truth. I just can’t say I’ve touched every corner of the beast. Or cornered the market on what it means to be woke. The question is, what will we do with the conflict and the friction? Maybe we can humbly agree on these:

  • Each of us has biases and blindnesses. Can we acknowledge the weakness of our woke-isms?
  • Each of us can learn more about other perspectives. If the extent of our argument is an echo in our own head, we’ll never hear what others are saying — or seeing or feeling.
  • Each of us could hold our beliefs with a solid but relaxed grip. I haven’t the hubris to cancel your opinions. Nor would I try to silence the truths you hold dear. But I will risk asking you to listen. And ask you to reconsider.
  • Each of us should listen and learn from other points of view. When our arrivals appear to be black and white, remember the elephant — or whatever this thing is that we’re all arguing about — is gray.

Let’s continue the discussion, keep our eyes and ears wide open to the best in all of us. Then woke can be just another word for hope.

Read more about Finding Our Blind Spots.  Discover more about the flat earth.

 

Have You Noticed What You Notice?

be present with mindfulness and practice paying attention

Mindfulness Part 2: The Nature of Attention

The natural world rejuvenates my mind and spirit, helps me be present.

A slow walk on a lovely rustic path improves my mental and spiritual health. Living in Tennessee, I have access to many outdoor havens including Cheekwood Gardens, Warner Parks, and my pretty little yard. Absorbing the benefits of God’s creation, like taking a forest bath, helps me unplug from technology and ground myself in a bigger picture. It can help me be present in the moment. A little de-stress and lots of re-connect.

Sometimes, though, I stay lost in thought even when I’m taking a break outside. My mind doesn’t know how to relax and let the here and now be here and now. Lately, I’ve realized I need to learn to be present.

But how do I take a slow mental stroll unencumbered with the habitual internal noise? No agenda to drive me, no lists to measure my productivity, can I let the mossy gray matter between my ears take a cogitation vacation?

Attention’s Deficit: What have you noticed?

Daily life requires our minds to focus, concentrate on the work at hand. Whether writing a coherent email or driving a congested road, we must attend to the the task at hand. However, the digital age has made concentration and staying present difficult.  Myriad devices, tabs, and apps compete for our attention, sending notifications and silent signals to draw attention to themselves. This constant barrage depletes even the strongest of minds. Thus, the importance of paying attention and noticing what we notice.

It follows that our first step in learning mindfulness, learning to be present, is the development of concentration.

In “Mindfulness Part 1, Becoming Aware,” I pointed out how our minds have minds of their own. They wander off when we’re not looking, taking time and energy away from what we’re learning, creating, or attempting to recall. Noticing the nature of what goes on inside our heads can be a welcome step back from our headlong dash into the day. With mindfulness, I am honing my ability to notice what I notice .

It’s like leaving your front-row seat in the movie theatre to watch the show from the wall at the back. You see the drama and the audience at the same time. In other words, you become aware that there’s a show going on rather than being caught up in it.

For starters, when we focus on our breathing or sounds around us, we harness our mind’s power to concentrate, to be present. The habit of seeing our focus drift then bringing it back is the practice of awareness. It goes like this:

Concentrate for as long as you can on an object. Notice you focus has diverted from that object. Bring your focus back to the object.

In so doing, we notice the distinction between finding focus and becoming lost in thought. The practice is the placing of attention back on the object again and again. The noticing shows we’re making progress in mindfulness and the practice makes the progress.

Get a Glimpse: What is here now?

 What is here now when there is no problem to solve?

Sometimes our practice of awareness is deliberate. Sometimes, though, mindfulness is effortless. We need not meditate for long stretches or retreat for weeks at a time. We can find ourselves in the present moment in any moment if we remember to get a glimpse.

Meditation teacher, Loch Kelly, calls this a micro-meditation or a glimpse: What is here now if there is no problem to solve? It is a question to settle the problem-solving mind.

When I’m outside, taking a break in nature but still mentally preoccupied with things on the inside, this question helps identify the distractions tugging me from being present:

“I should be getting to work.”

“Do I need to go to the store today?”

“I hope this headache goes away soon.”

When I let all the problem-solving drop for a moment, I suddenly see the trees, hear the birds, notice the beauty surrounding me. My mind and body are no longer disconnected from each other and from my environment. I can remember to hear the hum of bugs and bees, smell the damp, pungent earth, see the crystal stream, feel the spongy moss beneath my feet. When my mind won’t let me be present, only mindfulness can return me to direct experience. Sometimes a glimpse is all I need.

Be Present: Can you call it what it is?

After noticing the difference between mental drifting and present awareness, the next step is what some call, “noting.” It’s recognizing an arising sensation, thought, or emotion, and calling it what it is: feeling, thinking, hearing, seeing. 

This “noting” works best in a deliberate time of mindfulness. With eyes closed, we’re awake to the sounds around us and the movements of the mind itself. Learning to notice, we can silently “note” what is actually happening.

Here’s a simple mindfulness practice that adds “noting” to the mix:

  1. Sit with eyes closed and focus on your breath, what it feels like
  2. When your mind drifts to thinking, smile and focus again on your breath
  3. When you notice your mind has drifted again, smile and return to your breathing
  4. Now let go of that object of attention and notice what else appears in awareness
  5. If you become aware of a sound, silently say: hearing, hearing. If a body sensation comes to the forefront, whisper to yourself: feeling, feeling. When you notice you’re thinking, then note: thinking, thinking
  6. Engage in this practice every day for a week

Mindfulness: Will you trust the process?

Mindfulness is not difficult but it does take time. And, just ten minutes a day of focused practice is a lot more than ZERO. Imagine if your mind could learn to relax more! And the accrued benefits of mindful meditation and attention—well, that’s what we’ll talk about in “Mindfulness Part 3.”

Obviously, this is a small introduction to a big topic. I encourage you to reread Mindfulness Part 1. And set aside some time to try the exercises. Also, one resource many people enjoy is called Headspace, a practical application of these ideas.

Thanks for engaging and please leave a comment about your own mindful—or mindless—experiences.

Does Your Mind Have a Mind of its Own?

Mindfulness: a serene face of a woman with eyes closed

Mindfulness, Part 1: Becoming Aware

For me, it started with prayer. Prayer has always been a challenge for me. A challenge to spend time with God, focusing on Him entirely. Maybe amazing saints pray for three hours a day on their knees in the snow.

But not me. Five minutes into my devotional thoughts, I’m planning dinner or worrying about paying the bills.

Thankfully, I’m becoming more aware of how my mind behaves. It seldom stays present. The moment in which my body sits finds my mind racing ahead to the future. Or wandering off to the past.

 This morning I tried to savor my coffee, really taste that first delicious sip. Just focus on one thing, I told myself, notice what is here and now:
dark-haired woman sips coffee with eyes closed
Ah, yes, the heat on my lips on this cold winter day. Now that toasty Italian roast flavor mixes with the sugar and cream and… 

Three minutes later, I’ve planned half the day and become mired in angst about how little I got done yesterday. On top of that, I heap recriminations on my brain for its inability to stay focused.

Do you mind?

  • Have you ever driven your car for miles but forgotten the entire journey due to an inward conversation?
  • Have you ever started to work at your desk and then “come-to” half an hour later, your mind a thousand miles away?
  • Have you ever had an entire argument with someone within the narrows of your own headspace?

In this series of articles on Mindfulness, I will explore the basics of becoming more conscious. Also, I will share resources for diving a little deeper. Whether dipping your toe in the water or renewing your practice, you can follow me on this path to gaining more awareness and to finding a bit more peace.

Fear Not: The Tool of Meditation

Meditation is a bad word in some circles. I absorbed the notion that we open ourselves up to nefarious influences when we meditate. But this practice is not about emptying the mind. Rather it is about learning to observe how full of ideas our heads really are.

It’s like leaving your front-row seat in the movie theatre to watch the show from the wall at the back. You see the drama and the audience at the same time. In other words, you become aware that there’s a show going on rather than being caught up in it.

Let’s face it, these minds of ours can take us places we need not go. Our thought patterns carve deep ruts into which fear seeps, flooding our bodies with stress and tension. Awareness of our mental gymnastics can create space for disengaging with all of the places our worries try to take us. Eventually, we gain our footing and can stay longer in the present moment.

Practice Make Progress

We can practice becoming more mindful. Here’s a sample meditation. Set aside 10 minutes and find a comfortable spot.

  1. Sit with closed eyes
  2. Focus on your breathing and notice what it feels like, in your nose or in your chest
  3. When your mind drifts to thinking, smile and focus again on your breathing
  4. When you notice your mind has drifted again, smile and return to your breath
  5. Engage in this practice every day for a week

What’s key to practicing mindfulness is remembering that your goal is not to stay focused on your breath for a solid ten minutes. To some extent, you measure your progress by how often you notice your drifting into thought. Success is returning and returning again to the breath.

Be Kind

Meditation and Mindfulness have been my go-to tools lately. As I practice becoming aware of how my mind works, I pick up on the messages my inner voice whispers:

“If you make the wrong decision, it’ll be a disaster!”

“Nothing’s ever going to change, things’ll only get worse.”

Have you ever noticed how mean you can be to yourself? You wouldn’t say things like, “You are such an idiot!” to a friend, would you?

For me, learning to focus and notice what I’m thinking is a Godsend. This awareness lets me decide to follow a train of thought or jump off that thing before it wrecks me.

I hope you’ll give it a try. Leave a comment below and let me know how it’s going.

Thanks for joining me in Part 1 of my series on Mindfulness. Sign up for my newsletter to stay tuned for the rest of the series.
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