We are always taking refuge in something, often without realizing it. Many of the ways in which we direct our lives are unconscious attempts to find security. We take refuge in people and places, beliefs and ideals, work and hobbies, alcohol and drugs, money and status, pleasure and distraction – not to mention all the inventive ways we have found to avoid pain and discomfort (for a while).
But how reliable are these pop-up shelters we erect along the paths of our life? It takes honesty and courage to look at what we put our faith in and to consider how leaky the roof might be.
A true refuge never leaks. To be true, it must be a safe haven from all imaginable threats – the ultimate anxiety-free residence. It should also offer more than respite from instability and turmoil by serving as an ongoing assessment of one’s priorities in life. It should, therefore, be wedded to one’s core values and the aspiration to live with optimum ease.
Nor is a true refuge totally separate from its occupant. It is more a means to ‘coming home’ to oneself – to know oneself wholly and to realise one’s true nature.
A Secure Base
Mindfulness practice offers the possibility of such a refuge. In the most general sense, to be mindful is to take refuge in awareness. Awareness is the ever-present, boundless container of your life. It is the clear and open space through which you know all phenomena.
Mindfulness is about intentionally becoming more and more aware, but in such a way that is, paradoxically, a non-achievement. You don’t need to acquire awareness. By giving up on notions of acquisition, you let awareness shine through. Like the air around you, awareness is all-encompassing, readily available and easy to miss.
To dwell in awareness is to orientate yourself in a certain way. There is a conscious shift away from the mind’s tendency to concretize time and to conceptualize the ensemble of psycho-physical material that comprises self and world. The emphasis is on immediate experience. There is no need to ignore the past or deny the future – by grounding yourself in the here and now, you simply let go of mental stories the mind tells about time.
This gives rise to a particular way of seeing: receptive, connective and non-interfering in nature. You are free to approach life as you might look upon a work of art – situating yourself in it and allowing it to reveal itself.
Such a way of seeing is a non-judgemental gazing at life without a sense of ownership. Dwelling in the always-new experience of each moment is to move beyond the confines of ego and to open up to the interacting and interdependent nature of existence. You become sensitive to the flow of things without making them personal. This forges a deep, steady connection to what is happening within and around you.
As the psychotherapist Joseph Zinker once put it, through awareness you learn “to listen … without wanting, to touch without desiring, to love without squeezing, to gaze without becoming overly pedantic.” Kindness and compassion flow naturally from the refuge of mindfulness. Coming home is heart-opening.
From: Mindfulness for Unravelling Anxiety (2016).
Richard Gilpin MA MBACP MBABCP (accred)
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