We considered different forms of consciousness that can be considered mindful. What, however, of yet other forms of consciousness such as sleep or day dreaming? Are they mindful? What is not mindful? And among the things that are not mindful, are there any that are really never ever useful? We certainly could not do without sleep and eliminating day dreaming completely would not only be extremely difficult but also unwise. It is the root of much creativity.
Much of the modern attachment to the idea of mindfulness seems to flow from an over-valuation of conscious awareness at the expense of unconscious process, yet in the whole economy of the mind, unconscious process is by far the greater and more essential part, conscious awareness being, as it were, only the tip of the iceberg showing above the water line. Trying to expand consciousness in this sense of conscious awareness is attempting the impossible, like trying to get the iceberg to ride higher in the water.
Actually if a new part of the iceberg comes into view some other part disappears beneath the waves. There is a natural limit to what one can hold in awareness and turning attention to one thing throws other things into darkness. Much of the stress relieving effect of simple mindfulness exercises is due to this fact. They distract attention away from worries and anxieties. The worrying realities are still there, but no longer in awareness, at least for the period of the exercise. Such periods of rest from anxiety are certainly valuable, but they do not constitute a deep solution.
Actually the deep mind functions pretty well without our interference. What we have to learn is not so much how to control it as how to trust it and cherish it. It remains dark to our consciousness, and if we want conscious deliberate control, this can seem problematic, but, in fact, the deep mind is already looking after us and doing a good job.
When we considered mindfulness as mind fullness, we were considering the spiritual practice of filling the mind with good things, but we can also consider what the mind is already full of. Spiritual practice can well begin with some kind of stocktake. When we attempt this, however, we realise that our minds seem bottomless, containing many more things than we shall ever be able to access at will, yet which can be triggered by adventitious circumstances or events. We can never know ourselves completely and we are often taken by surprise as memories surface, emotions arise, and ideas come into the mind as we respond to the concatenation of daily life occurrences.
In the same way as we can never completely plumb the depth of our inner space, so we can never know the full extent of outer space either. We live in a universe of wonders that stretches well beyond our horizon Walk out at night and look at the stars. One naturally responds to the vastness and beauty. Somehow it is reflected deeply within ourselves. We feed the deep mind better by opening ourselves to the vast mystery, than by holding the reins too tightly. When we exhaust ourselves, Nature refreshes us,
The over-emphasis upon conscious awareness is a craving for control. Much of life is ayatana – uncontrollable - and that is not bad. Whilest it is true that we have great resources of will and wit, it is also just as true that we are vulnerable and weak, tiny mortal beings facing of a vast and mysterious cosmos, both outer and inner.
We learn some self-control, but of far greater importance is the capacity to wonder and marvel at the immensity of the mystery. This wonderment can fill the mind and spirit and underpins the whole of our spiritual life. When we stop and stare, we do so in awe. When we see deeply, it is to see the wonder of things. When we are in the flow, it is a wonderful thing in itself. When one's mind is full of perennial wisdom, the ground of that wisdom is surely such a capacity for awe. This is the original mind that effaces the artificially constructed self.
So there are many diverse forms of mindfulness, yet permeating them all is the sense of awe that is the root of all religious experience. I will talk further about how one particular way in which this sense of awe has been spelt out in Buddhism teaching in the next section.