This mindfulness stuff can appear to be pretty selfish: atrocities are being committed in Syria, Sudan, and the Congo; people are starving in so many places; little kids are working their fingers to the bone just so we can have our cup of joe, our phones, and cheap clothes. How on earth can you, in good conscience, just sit around trying to feel better about yourself, when there’s a whole world suffering out there?
The answer is, it is very much because of that kind of thing happening in the world that being more mindful is so important.
Think about it. Who is more likely to perpetuate an atrocity—a mindful or an unmindful person? Who is more likely to take effective action towards resolving hunger in the world—a mindful or an unmindful person? Who is more likely to be conscious about what they consume—a mindful or an unmindful person?
It is easy to confuse mindfulness with inaction. But they are nothing like the same thing. Certainly, part of being mindful is being aware when you’re too busy; and another part of it is finding ways to slow down. But being busy doesn’t equate to action any more than being mindful equates to inaction. There are many mindlessly busy people just spinning their wheels—not getting anywhere really fast.
When we are mindful, we are more likely to make our actions count. We recognize that the busier we are, the more we miss of our lives; and we also recognize what really needs to happen around us. Whether it’s picking up a piece of trash on the sidewalk, being present and available for a friend in need, or making every effort to minimize our impact on the environment, in each instance we are being mindful to act in the most effective way we can. The more mindful we become, the more we find ourselves being moved to act in ways that benefit our physical and interpersonal environments.
And what happens when you act in this way? What kind of impact does it have? It may appear to be such a small drop in such a huge ocean, that it hardly seems worthwhile. But every drop creates a ripple. The drop doesn’t see the ripple; it just becomes a part of it. Part of being mindful is appreciating the intrinsic rewards that come from a job well done, rather than relishing the approval and gratitude of others. We can’t know where the ripples go, but we can be assured they do.
But it’s not just about the ripples. You know what it means when a big, juicy drop of water lands on your head. You know there will be another one. And another. And another, until they pick up speed, and before you know it, there’s a downpour.
How many downpours do we need before our humanity overrides our inhumanity? Only one. I promise you, there is not one happy dictator in the world. There isn’t one person grasping at power mindfully, for that would be oxymoronic. Power is but another addiction, and addiction comes only from a perceived lack. As mindfulness creeps in, that perception changes, and the hole begins to fill. In time, all we want is happiness, peace, and whatever this happens to be in any given moment.
Happy, peaceful people don’t start wars. Happy, peaceful people don’t want to subjugate others to make their own lives better. Happy, peaceful people just want to see more happy, peaceful people; and they’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen.
So when equate mindfulness with selfishness, they are absolutely right. It’s the most selfish thing you could possibly do—what could be more selfish than striving for your own peace and happiness? But here’s the thing: through mindfulness we find that, in order to achieve peace and happiness, we need to bring peace and happiness to others. In order to be as selfish as possible, it is essential to be selfless.
Let the downpour begin.