A list of “suggested books,” when it is available, always comes at the end of the book. But. There is no beginning or end to this Handbook, because the spiritual journey itself has no beginning or end. The journey is a trip back “to the face that was yours before you were born.” Your physical existence had a beginning, and it will have an end, but the unconscious, invisible, spiritual side of you was around before you started, and will be around long after you are finished. Your journey is unending, which means it is always just beginning.
This Handbook is a series of observations and tips to help you make your journeying conscious. Consciousness is our only tool. Without consciousness, the journey becomes tedious and repetitive—a bad karma trip that lasts through eons of timeless rounds of reincarnated attempts at waking up. But, apart from consciousness, who is awake?
This Handbook is for those who are awake enough to know the importance of waking up, and are wondering how best to go about doing that. The Handbook itself is my offering to that end, but I would be inexcusably remiss if I didn’t point you to those people, and their books, who have been most helpful to me. If you start reading somewhere, and you wouldn’t be reading this if that process had not already begun, the synchronistic principle applies: “One book opens another,” and before you know it, you are spinning around on the wheel of fortune, seeking the next realization, and the one after that, and “where it stops, no one knows”!
The overarching rule governing the spiritual journey is simple, straightforward, always certain and dependable: Mindfulness leads the way. Your heart, soul, body, mind know all you need to know—all you need to do is know what you know. Then, you only need to do what needs to be done about it.
Mindfulness is the way of tuning into heart, soul, body, mind—within the context of the time and place (The Here/Now) of your living. It is the way of knowing what you know, and what to do about it, in a way that is fitting to the occasion in each situation as it arises.
Mindfulness implies no judgment, no will and no opinion, just awareness, just seeing, just hearing, just knowing: “This, too. This, too.” When you catch yourself responding to your situation with judgment, willfulness and opinion, simply be aware of that emptying yourself of agenda, ambition, judgment, opinion, emotional reactivity, and all the filters and blinders that prevent you from just seeing, just knowing, here/now. We have to know what we know without judgment, will or opinion. Mindfulness practice does that for us—it helps us see what we are looking at, to know what we are doing—without a prejudicial bias that would blind—or bind—us to any aspect of the situation.
We live with direction and preference, but we cannot will a particular outcome—or will to avoid one—without losing sight of some aspect of the situation. We cannot lose sight of any aspect of the situation, and respond to it in ways that are fitting and appropriate to that situation.
Our place is to be what the situation needs us to be, and let nature take its course–and trust nature to take its course! We are to offer our art, genius, gift, perspective, values, personal qualities and character in the service of the needs of life in each situation as it arises, in a “Thy will, not mine, be done,” kind of way–without imposing our way on the situation. To do that, we have to get ourselves with our preferences, desires, interests, fear, anxieties and concerns out of the way in order to just see, just hear, just understand, just know what is happening, and what needs to be done about it, and just be who we are in dealing with the situation, and doing what needs to be done about it.
Every good thing starts with mindful awareness, and requires courage. Get those two things going for you and you are off on your adventure. One of the 10,000 Spiritual Laws is: “When you take everything into account, what to do about it is automatic.” The short version says, “Seeing Is Doing.”
Mindfulness is being transparent to ourselves, and aware of the situation unfolding before us, without judgment, agenda, will or opinion. We live knowing, and thus, know what to do. Then it is only a matter of having the courage to do it.
What do we pay attention to when we pay attention? Every. Single. Thing. We are to be mindful of everything it is possible to be mindful of in every situation as it arises. When we take everything into account, we become aware of all the ways our Self is attempting to communicate with us. As we open ourselves to the validity and reality of the our unconscious (because we are unconscious of it) Self, everything shifts.
To live mindfully is to start paying attention to what we are ignoring, discounting, dismissing, discarding, overlooking, missing each day. Too many people of all ages fail to live mindfully, fail to be aware without judgment, agenda, will or opinion of what is happening and how they are responding to it. We cannot wait until we are 70 to start practicing being mindfully aware of our life without judgment, agenda, will or opinion. We do that over time. Being mindfully aware of things inner and outer, without judgment, agenda, will or opinion, is a life skill practiced, and developed, over the course of our life.
Start being aware of your breathing. Breathe in and breathe out normally, being aware of the act of breathing. Pause for a count of five between the out breath and the in breath, and attend the silence and the emptiness of that space between breaths. That is the emptiness you seek for periods of openness to the moment in your life–without expectations, agenda, plans, will, or opinion.
Continue being aware of your breathing and expand your awareness to include the moment of your living—and your reactions to the moment of your living. Take everything into account. Practice seeing everything just as it is without embellishing it with judgment, will or opinion. Just see. Just hear. Just know what is happening and what you are doing in response.
The experience of our direct, personal, experience, both inner and outer, is knowing on the deepest possible level. That is mindfulness. We cannot experience our experience if we are making judgments, living willfully with some end in mind, and/or forming opinions about what we are experiencing.
Just see. Just hear. Just feel. Just sense. Become curious about your experience, about where our attention goes, focuses, remains, rests. What is directing your attention? Watch your attention as it wanders, looking for an attractor—become intently curious about what your attention is seeking, and why.
Consciousness is the transforming, transcending, integrating agent in living in accord with life. Being mindfully aware—conscious—of all facets of our life brings up the conflicts and contradictions that have to be reconciled, and integrated. It is the mindful work to reconcile and integrate our conflicts and contradictions that grows us up, and makes us whole. If you have a problem, become mindful of it. Get to the bottom of it. Allow it to bring up your conflicts. Ponder them. Examine them. Let your imagination play with them. Listen to them! Be mindful of them. See where it goes.
Everything is improved with conscious, mindful awareness. This is the essential orientation. It all flows from there. Thus, developing and practicing mindful awareness is the most important thing, and Jon Kabat-Zinn leads the way on my list of recommended reading.
Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of the Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness is the manual of Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress-Reduction program, and is an excellent guide and resource for those seeking to deepen their awareness of what is happening and how they are reacting to it.
Kabat-Zinn’s other books include:
Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life
Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment—And Your Life
Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness
Learning to attend and decipher the signals from our body is a crucial step in living attuned to “the inner guide.” We sense, feel, intuit, “Yes!” and “No!” before we think them—and our thinking may be directly opposed to our body’s reaction. We come at “Yes!” and “No!” through head, heart, and body, and the idea is to have all three aligned, in agreement and acting as one. Consciousness, or mindful awareness, oversees and coordinates the inner communion, and implements the will of the whole. A method for achieving this is explored through Focusing.
Ann Weiser Cornell has expanded the application of Eugene T. Gendlin’s work on Focusing (The title of Gendlin’s book), with her books,
The Power of Focusing: A Practical Guide to Emotional Self-Healing,
The Radical Acceptance of Everything: Living a Focusing Life
Power of Focusing
Robert A. Johnson explores additional approaches to integrating inner with outer in his book
Parker Palmer offers his take on the matter in his book
A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life
Joseph Campbell has written a number of volumes dealing with the mythological connection between visible and invisible—physical and spiritual—modes of existence. I recommend starting with his and Bill Moyer’s book
The Power of Myth
I also recommend:
A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living compiled by Diane K. Osbon
Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation
Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphors
The Flight of the Wild Gander
Carl Jung’s work explores the matter of integrating our inner self with our outer life, and his influence is reflected in books by Marie-Louise von Franz, James Hollis and Anthony Stevens. Checking their titles and letting your interest guide you is the operative procedure here.
Thomas Cleary has translated a number of ancient texts on Taoism, Zen and Buddhism.
Ray Grigg’s book The Tao of Zen is a valuable text and wonderful guide for entering the worlds of Taoism and Zen.
Martin Palmer has translated and written books on Taoism.
The one that stands out for me is The Jesus Sutras: Rediscovering the Lost Scrolls of Taoist Christianity. This may be out of print by now, but should be available through used bookstores, and is well worth the effort it takes to find, purchase and read.
Once you start reading, all you have to do is follow your interests along the way that a calls your name to the next book, and the next book after that all the way to the end of the line that never ends! Happy reading and adventuresome trailblazing!