The wisdom of disillusion

Mark Leonard

Director, Mindfulness Connected and Strategic Partner at Talik & Co

We all wish to trust some kind of shared truth that will give us the security that certainty offers. We all want to share a sense of identity with a group who share our beliefs. We want someone else to give us the answers. We want a leader. Do we really want “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally?”

The considered words and hypnotic intonation of mindfulness teacher’s voice carries a subliminal message. Many mindfulness teachers have credentials by association with their teachers. Authenticity comes by transmission through a lineage that goes back to those who developed Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy or Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. These teachers were taught by Buddhists and many mindfulness teachers wear some Buddhist badge as a sign of authenticity. It does not take a great deal of understanding to reproduce what has been learnt, however, the refuge of wise words all too often becomes fused with charisma, celebrity and reputation.

We are rarely given guidance on how to examine our own mind. What we think is ‘learning’ is often no more than conditioning. We adopt commonly held assumptions by exposure to them. We seek the company of those who share our views. It is not difficult to follow a method that trades analytical thinking with a sedative of the comfort that comes from friends, identity and shared language. The drive to acquire identity is powerful, but, disillusion will eventually follow “as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the carriage” (Twin Verses, Dhammapada).

We should be suspicious of those who explain that we will gain understanding from the experiences they offer us. Is mindfulness any different to a new high that comes with the pusher’s claim? Surely, we should expect explanations that hold up to critical examination and we should only trust those who empower us to know our own mind.

The only way to test what we are told is true is by comparing it with what we observe and by critical examination. The feelings that follow are uncomfortable when they come with disillusionment; just like a cold turkey. Mindfulness may help us to be aware of feelings of grief that come with the loss of identity, but this only comes after our beliefs have been challenged. Then we can process these feelings and be free of them only if we can resist grasping some new certainty to replace the old.

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