A current go-to term is mindfulness. You hear it in conversation, you read it online. The concept makes perfect sense. Be here now, not in yesterday or tomorrow. The old-fashioned adjective, mindful, is a synonym for thoughtful. You know, think before you act. Turn your mind on and ponder a matter before you say or do something connected with it. Off-the-top-of-one’s-head speech or action often leads to personal regret or even harm to others.
Given all this, why am writing in praise of mindlessness? Doesn’t that end up causing the same bad results I’ve just mentioned? Well, yes and no. It can of course. But by mindlessness I mean something different from thoughtlessness. Remember that old Beatles song from the Revolver album: “Turn off you mind, relax, and float downstream. It is not dying…”? As a certified smarty-pants (Yale B.A. magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, and later Yale Ph.D.), I have discovered in my 82-plus years that not every issue can be best dealt with by discursive thought. Some of the most important decisions in life need to be made not by the mind or even the heart but by a faculty further away from the ego and closer to one’s true inner self. This faculty is sometimes referred to as one’s intuition. The Hawaiian language refers to wisdom as na`auao, literally, the light (ao) that comes from the gut (na`au). We say “My gut tells me….”
Now we in the Western world have elevated thinking to our main and most-trusted faculty. Our understanding of “meditation” is “mentation,” using our mental powers to solve a problem, but the unmoving stone Buddha in my garden represents a diametrically different meaning of the former term, namely, non-thinking in order to make space for the right answer to bubble up or drop in from above. As a New Yorker born and bred, I’ve always loved the Chrysler Building. It’s rocket-like elegance took my heart even as a kid. Still, for all its beauty, you can’t land a helicopter on its pointy tower. For that you need something flat-roofed like the less elegant but, in this regard, more practical RCA Building. By the same token, two-way radios have traditionally had switches that toggle between SEND and RECEIVE. When we are sending, we can’t receive, and vice-versa. That’s why in World War II movies, the radio operators in bombers say “Over” to indicate that they’ve now switched from Send to Receive and are prepared to listen. Effective spiritual practice helps us find that inner toggle switch to enable us to turn off our monkey minds and make space to hear the still, small voice of our Biggest and Best Self, God’s Emissary within each of us. So, when you think about it, this explains why Jesus had to be born in that manger, close to the animals. After all, there was no room for him in the world of the inn. This, my friends, is why I am praising mindlessness.