Neither mindful nor mindless

The mind is to be let loose without directing. Sustaining mindfulness is cast away without objectifying it. The mind is left in its ordinary state without meditating. Thus, with nothing controlling it, the mind is joyous and at ease. Gampopa

Tanya: It seems to me that what you are offering is a form of mindfulness meditation, but extending that into our interaction with other people and the world.

Peter: Perhaps. What do you mean by mindfulness meditation?

Tanya: Staying aware of what we are doing in the moment. Being aware of what I doing no matter what it is. If I’m washing my dog being fully aware that I’m washing the dog and not drifting off into my thoughts about the past or future.

Peter: What’s wrong with that? What’s the problem in washing your dog and thinking about tomorrow?

Tanya: Well, I’m not being present to what is there. I might get soap in my dog’s eyes, or more to the point, if I’m driving, I might ram up the back side of the car in front.

Peter: Sure, in some situations, like driving our attention should be on the road, which it generally is. But we still don’t need to block all other thoughts. If this was a condition for safe driving no one would have a licence. In fact, if we didn’t think about the future there would never be a reason to brake or accelerate.

Tanya: I don’t know about that. But I still feel that if I’m washing my dog, I should have basically all my attention on what’s happening.

Peter: But, what if other thoughts are part of what is? Are those thoughts about the tomorrow or yesterday, there (in the present) when you are washing the dog, or are they happening at some other time?

Tanya: Yes, they are there, but they are a distraction from being present to what is.

Peter: How is that possible if that’s what is there?

Tanya: I see what you are saying. They are there in the present even though they might be about the past or future. Still, if I’m thinking about tomorrow it means that I’m not fully appreciating what is immediately present to me.

Peter: That’s right. Perhaps your not attending to the smell of soap and fur as you wash your dog. Instead you’re attending to some internal imagery and thoughts about a meeting you are having tomorrow. You’re are present to some thoughts about something else because those are the thoughts that are there. Specific thoughs are there to be though, so your are thinking them, in the same way that there are visual sensations of your hands and dog which you are perceiving. Still, I do appreciate what you are saying. It’s just that we can give ourselves a lot of suffering by struggling to do something different from what we are doing. This isn’t to say that we should be doing whatever we are doing in some moralistic or fatalistic sense. Rather it is simply recogising that presence includes being present to thoughts, feelings, etc. that we would prefer not to be there. Yet, interestingly, if we are also open and honest about the fact that we have preferences, the same thoughts and feelings can be there in a totally transparent and uneventful way. Often we disguise our preferences by clothing them in righteous beliefs about what we should be experiencing.


Peter: Are you being mindful right now?

Tanya: Yes.

Peter: Show me how you could become unaware, or let’s say just less mindful.

Tanya: Well, I could start to free associate. I could just let my thought drift off somewhere else. I could think about dinner in a few hours.

Peter: Can I see you do that?


Tanya: I can’t do that right now.

Peter: Why?

Tanya: Because your talking to me. It’s just not happening.

Peter: Well, I’ll stop talking a bit, and let you do that.


Peter: You don’t seem to be drifting off to me. You seem to be very much here in the work- shop setting and in relationship with me.

Tanya: I’m not sure. I am thinking about what we have been talking about.

Peter: So what do you think? Should you be thinking about what we have been talking about, or should you be thinking about something else?

Tanya: I don’t know. I guess it’s okay to be thinking about what we are doing.

Peter: Is there something else that it would be better to be thinking about?

Tanya: I don’t know. I don’t think so.

Peter: Is it fine to be thinking that thought?

Tanya: Yes.

Peter: Do you think you should be sitting here?

Tanya: I suppose so. Sure.

Peter: Do you think you should be somewhere else?

Tanya: Well, I can think I should be somewhere else.

Peter: Yes. And is it okay to think that thought?

Tanya: Sure.

Peter: Would you say you are drifting off now, on some unrelated stream of thoughts?

Tanya: No.

Peter: Are you trying to control what you are thinking?

Tanya: No.

Peter: Is this mindfulness?

Tanya: No. At least not as I was describing it before.

Peter: Is this being mindless-unaware of what is happening?

Tanya: No. Certainly not.

SUE: Where is this taking us?

Peter: Wherever we go.

Charles: It’s taking us to where we are.

Peter: Where are we?

Charles: Here.

Peter: Where were you before you were here?

Charles: Here, but we might not have known we were here.

Peter: If you didn’t know you were here, how do you say you were here?

Charles: I don’t know.


James: This seems somewhat nihilistic to me.

Peter: Is something happening?

James: Of course. This is happening.

Peter: So how is this nihilistic? Is anything disappearing out of your experience?

James: You seem to be suggesting that we should be just doing whatever we are doing. What about choice?

Peter: Is this in any way stopping or suppressing anything happening? Is anything stopping you getting up and stretching your legs or having a drink?

James: Well, only that we are in a conversation.

Peter: The way to check out if this space is restricting your freedom is to see what’s happen- ing now. For example, is there anything stopping us from taking a break right now?

James: No there isn’t.

Peter: Would you like to take a break?

James: Sure.

Peter: How about others. Would you like to take a break now?

Others: Yes.

Peter: Well let’s do that.

Peter Fenner

About Peter Fenner

Peter Fenner, Ph.D. is a spiritual leader in the adaption and transmission of Asian nondual wisdom and Founder of Timeless Wisdom, a California nonprofit. He is a pioneer in the development of nondual therapy. He created the Radiant Mind Course® and the Natural Awakening: Advanced Nondual Training. Peter runs courses, trainings, retreats and satsang telecalls and offers individual coaching sessions. His students and clients include Buddhist psychotherapists, psychologists, coaches, Zen masters, Sufi masters, Vipassana and Mindfulness teachers, Yoga teachers, psychiatrists, medical doctors, hospice workers, students of Tibetan Buddhism, followers of Advaita, artists and spiritual seekers worldwide.Peter also offers retreats on 4 continents. He has presented his work at leading universities and institutions including Columbia, Stanford, CIIS and Naropa. Stay in touch: • Join Peter Fenner's network on LinkedIn • Like his page on Facebook
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