Upon reading a couple of things the other day, something became very clear: there is no peace—and all that it entails—without resolve. We can think we want something—like peace—but if we only remember this when we’re sitting, or on retreat, or in a nice quiet place on our own, then we don’t yet have the resolve to make it an ongoing reality.

Here’s what I read. Firstly, from the Magga-vibhanga Sutta:

And what is right resolve? Being resolved on renunciation, on freedom from ill will, on harmlessness: This is called right resolve.

And secondly, from A Course in Miracles:

Vigilance does require effort, but only until you learn that effort itself is unnecessary. You have exerted great effort to preserve what you made because it was not true. Therefore, you must now turn your effort against it. Only this can cancel out the need for effort.

Resolve. Vigilance.

If you’ve ever been on retreat, you’re probably familiar with the retreat ‘high’ that many people experience. You get to a point—usually towards the end of the retreat—where you start seeing really clearly; everything makes more sense than it had previously, and now you’re ready to take on the world. And then you leave the retreat, and BAM! two days later you’re the same pumped up stress ball that you were before the retreat.

What happened to the happy little Buddha (or Christ, or Mahavira, or Sunrta, or Euphrosyne, or Mickey Mouse, it really doesn’t matter) who left that retreat? Well, you may also well ask, what happened to your resolve?

At the retreat, you’re in a space where everyone shares the same resolve, and where that resolve permeates everything that happens there. When you get home, the resolve dissipates. There’s work, family, dinners, dishes, commitments, etc., and you’re probably finding that they’re more crunched together than before because you’ve just been on retreat for a week or two. You still have resolve, but now it’s to get things done, rather than to be in peace (or whatever you were resolved to achieve while on retreat).

Resolve, in and of itself, is not altogether uncommon. What is uncommon is the resolve to be peaceful, to be happy, to be awake. If you have some resolve towards this end you may go to church or synagogue or temple once a week, or you may meet with like-minded people on a regular basis. With a little more resolve, you may meditate daily, or regularly read texts that help you find that space. These are all great steps on the path, but to really come home to the peace that lies within us requires constant vigilance, determination, and attention. At least—as A Course in Miracles points out—until it becomes so ingrained in your psyche that no effort is required at all.

Really, we’re all resolved. Only most of us are resolved to continue suffering; to continue experiencing stress, and doing everything we can to forget, to deny, who we really are. It’s all a question of priorities, and most of our priorities are really messed up.

What’s your priority? Is it peace? Is it joy? Is it awakening? Here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter what you say, what you do gives us the answer. If you are not experiencing peace, joy, or awakening, then chances are your resolve is not primarily directed towards them. This doesn’t need be a concern, unless you truly want to make these things your priority. If you do, be vigilant for this and nothing else. I’m telling myself I’d like to join you.

Not Guilty

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You have been judged and found to be innocent.

Absolutely, 100% innocent of all charges. Not guilty.

Think of the most egregious thing you’ve ever done. For many of us it’s not too hard. It sits near the front of our memory and pops out in inconvenient moments to be met by regretful grimaces and shame; with thoughts like, How could I have done that? What was I thinking? That was totally unforgivable.

Okay, but is this actually true? Is it unforgivable? What were you thinking at the time? Where was your mind? What did you believe to be true right then and there? With these things in mind, did you really have a choice?

When we judge someone, it comes with the inherent assumption that they did have a choice; that they could have made a better one. We make the same assumption when we judge ourselves. It’s an easy assumption to make in hindsight. Hindsight affords us all sorts of luxuries we don’t possess in the moment. What it doesn’t afford us is an honest appraisal of the situation.

Most of us spend most of our lives unconscious. We have the appearance of being awake, but our minds are at the mercy of an intricate network of beliefs. These beliefs guide our every action; they latch onto all the thoughts that uphold them, while dismissing any thought that opposes them. It is a dream state occupied entirely by fears about the future, regrets about the past, and a stockpile of theories and ideas; all designed to achieve just one purpose: to avoid the present moment, to keep us unconscious.

So that thing you did, that you regret so dearly—how conscious were you when you did it? Were you being guided by the light inside you, or were you feeling justified by the chorus of beliefs screaming at you to do what you did? Did you really have a choice? If you believed now what you believed then, would you do it any differently in this moment?

You are innocent. You didn’t know any better in that moment. It was your only option.

This doesn’t mean you can’t make amends. Now you know better, now you’re in a position to right wrongs, as you see them. It doesn’t mean you should expect others to see you as innocent—they are also guided by their beliefs, and people guided by beliefs see guilt everywhere. After all, every belief necessarily comes with a right side and a wrong side; go against the belief in any way and you are deemed guilty.

But you are innocent. We are all innocent. We simply didn’t have a choice, believing what we did at the time.

But you will only see innocence when you drop those beliefs. And you can only drop those beliefs by being present, in this moment. It is only right here, right now where innocence exists. The past is loaded with guilt. The future is filled with worrisome fears of the guilt to come. So come here to this moment. Center in on this, whatever this may be. Be here, now. Dwell in the innocence of it all.

For you are forgiven. You have always been forgiven. You will always be forgiven. For you are wholly, entirely innocent. We all are.

Religion vs. Mindfulness

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“The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (II Cor. 3:6).

You don’t have to look far before you find some well-meaning person warn other well-meaning people away from mindfulness because it’s against their religion.

Their concern is understandable. If they see the world from a religious perspective, they will see mindfulness as representing a religion as well. In this case, it’s usually Buddhism. While many people who have studied the Buddha’s teachings and understand what a religion is would readily tell you that Buddhism isn’t actually a religion, any serious mindfulness practitioner should also be able to tell you that’s irrelevant. Like I say, when your whole frame of reference is governed by religion, you see everything as being with or against your religion. What you see is entirely defined by how you see.

But mindfulness isn’t Buddhist.

Mindfulness is simply being aware. Certainly, the Buddha was a master at teaching people how to be aware, how to be mindful; but the practice of noticing with curiosity doesn’t exclusively belong to a belief system, religious or otherwise. What do you think they do inside monasteries all day? What about the Gnostics or the Sufis? People who are deeply into religious practice are—by default—deeply into their own particular version of mindfulness.

And it’s not just religious people who practice mindfulness. Top athletes around the world are exemplary practitioners of mindfulness. People at the top of their game in any field are, by definition, mindful people. They may not have the teachings of the Buddha to guide them, they may not incorporate mindfulness into every aspect of their lives, but in the moments they’re being mindful they are being exceptionally mindful.

Mindfulness can only enhance your religious practice. It can only help you go deeper, and take it further. Meditation is, after all, just an immersive form of prayer. If you are a believer in God, meditation will only take you closer to Him.

But the people who are concerned about the negative impact mindfulness could have on their religion may well have a point when it comes to dogma. If your experience of religion is purely academic, if it is the words—not the experience—that appeal to you, then there is the possibility that mindfulness could affect your faith. This is because mindfulness is about experience, not words. When you are truly in touch with yourself, you already know what is right and what is wrong. It’s not a moralistic thing, it’s just that what is right feels right, and what is wrong feels wrong.

Mindfulness aligns and attunes your senses in such a way that the idea of sin becomes one in which you realize you’re sinning against yourself. Think about it. Take the seven deadly sins, for instance: lust, envy, pride, gluttony, wrath, greed and sloth. When you’re noticing what is going on within you, you realize very fast that not one of these feels comfortable. When you’re being mindful, you don’t do these things because you notice they don’t work for you. It’s really that simple.

So yes, mindfulness could threaten the way you see religion, but it can only improve your experience of it. As always, it’s your call on which one you choose.

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