How do we enter the doorway of the present moment? One of the ways is by answering a riddle, says contemplative writer Martin Laird.
One of the riddles he sets is this, ‘What do thoughts and feelings appear in?’ (‘Into The Silent Land’, p.80). When I ask people that question, many people can’t answer it. The answer Martin Laird gives, based on his study of Christian contemplative writers is that our thoughts and feelings appear in awareness (p.88).
Now this is affirmed by cognitive psychology and neuroscience. J. Mark G. Williams and Jon Kabat-Zinn summarize this beautifully in their introduction in the book ‘Mindfulness: Diverse Perspectives on its Meaning, Origins and Applications,’ jointly edited by them.
They define mindfulness as awareness, ‘an entirely different and one might say, larger capacity than thought, since any and all thought and emotion can be held in awareness.’ (p.15) This is something we need to become aware of. But as they go on to say, ‘While we get a great deal of training in our education systems in thinking of all kinds, we have almost no exposure to the cultivation of intimacy with that other innate capacity of ours that we call awareness.’ (p.15)
This is why people struggle to answer the riddle, ‘what do thoughts and feelings appear in?’ Williams and Kabat-Zinn go on to say, ‘Awareness is virtually transparent to us. We tend to be unaware of our awareness. We so easily take it for granted.’ (p.15) And yet it is one of our most important innate capacities.
As they conclude, ‘It rarely occurs to us that it is possible to systematically explore and refine our relationship to awareness itself, or that it can be ‘inhabited’.’ (p.15) Mindfulness is awareness but mindful practices can help us systematically ‘explore and refine our relationship to awareness’ so that it can be ‘inhabited.’