On When Mindfulness is Not Enough


In the final issue of the Inquiring Mind, a journal that for 30 years has discussed topics serving the Western Theravadan Buddhist community, I was delighted to read Gil Fronsdal’s essay, “When Mindfulness Is Too Much.” I felt a tremendous sense of relief.

His comment that giving up mindfulness⎯though “temporary, proved to be a necessary step in my path toward liberation” ⎯resonated strongly with me. From my 44 year journey of meditation and yoga, both as a practitioner and a teacher, I have very much valued how mindfulness shows us how to be present in the moment with whatever we are experiencing. Yet, I have also seen, as with various other mind focusing activities such as the simple act of witnessing, for example, how mindfulness is still, as Gil Fronsdal aptly said in his essay, “an activity of the mind.” The way I have framed the dilemma of longing to go beyond mindfulness is to understand that there are times when mindfulness is not enough.

A different type of experience is that state of deep quiet when all mental activity has come to a stop. I have at times concluded this must be the emptiness I have read about. Other times, I have felt so altered I could find no words to adequately describe the truth of my experience, though I have hinted at it in various poems.

I very much appreciate Gil Fronsdal’s statement, “Now I have a connection to a dimension of mind or of awareness that is unconstructed.” It is helpful for me to have this confirmation of something I have long suspected. He continues on to say that the “unconstructed became very important because it highlighted how everything else is constructed.” I find this perspective of the “unconstructed” and “constructed” to be a skillful insight on the spiritual journey.

Only a few days before reading this article, I had observed a potential tension created by a part of the mind (which I have often called the left brain or the analytical brain) towards something quite the opposite⎯a rising, radical and expanding experience. My sense afterwards was to label that experience as rapture, but even that did not seem to be an adequate description. A startlingly clear delineation between the “constructed” and “unconstructed” was actually helpful because I recognized how both types of experiences are informative in their own way.

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