I recently attended a two-day seminar on mindfulness training in a program promoted by Google. A Google engineer was inspired by mindfulness and decided this practice should be Google’s next gift to the world. The program is now being taught all over the world, largely in corporate settings.
Despite my initial skepticism, I thought it was quite good – the teachers were steeped in the practice and well-versed in the latest science on meditation, and of course both were clinical psychologists because that is the route through which modern science is opening up to the benefits of meditation. Practices included attending to the breath, feeling the body, noticing emotions, journaling, and conscious listening.
It wasn’t noted in the seminar, but mindfulness meditation per se comes from Vipassasa practice in Buddhism. Vipassana – meaning “keen observation” – uses systematic conscious observation as a gradual method to chisel away at our illusion and impurities in order to uncover our pristine original nature. From a modern agnostic-scientific-corporate perspective, we are chiseling away at our distractedness in order to optimize our brain function, creativity, emotional intelligence, happiness, and productivity.
It is pragmatic to meet people where they are (“skillful means”), and these practices, which are fundamentally non-cultural and non-sectarian in nature, have adapted to many different cultural and religious contexts for millennia. Since we’re living in a largely post-religious scientific world, it probably makes sense to present these practices from a scientific perspective, as most of us trust doctors, psychologists, and scientists more than priests or shamans.
While mindfulness practice is wonderful in itself and has countless “benefits”, I am compelled to write about the distinction between mindfulness & wuweidao – they are not the same thing.
The Chinese term xin (心) translates as heart-mind. It represents our central consciousness consisting of a harmony of 5 distinct kinds of spirit, each associated with 1 of the 5 phases of qi. One of these spirits is yi (意), which means mind-intent.
Mindfulness practice engages the yi to look into the xin in order to gain perspective, to calm down, and to improve our ability to remain centered or to handle difficult situations. Two Chinese words for mindfulness practice are ding & guan (定觀) – focus & observation (see Ding-Guan post).
There is a term in esoteric Daoism called the “Yellow Woman” (黃牝) – these characters are featured above. “Use the yellow woman to harmonize yin & yang”. The color yellow implies the qi-phase soil, which represents central equilibrium and is associated with yi. The character for woman here – “pin” – shows an ox plowing a field, so the image is of furrows in soil. While the process of plowing represents intentional practice (wei, 為), the open, empty grooves represent emptiness, fertility, and open potential (wu, 無).
Most traditions, including Daoist alchemy, agree that meditation practice needs to start with some degree of intentional effort, but at some point effort needs to be abandoned in order to allow our practice to ripen. In Daoist terminology, we start with youwei (有為) – intention and control (plowing the field), and finish in wuwei (無為) – abandoning intention and control (relaxing effort).
In wuweidao, we abandon intention and control pretty much from the very beginning. It takes some degree of intention to sit and maintain the specific points of posture, but once we’re sitting we just let everything go, leaving our cultivation to the great Dao. We’re not actively cultivating and we’re not exerting effort to be mindful – this is an important point. Letting our mind be as it is without placing effort or mindfulness or anything else upon it.
Mindfulness is the process of actively plowing the field. Wuweidao by comparison is the practice of empty-mindedness – xuxin (虛心). While mindfulness may aspire to wuwei as an ultimate goal or consider it an advanced stage, in Laozi’s practice we consider wuwei the fundamental method of nature itself and jump right in with full faith in the capacity of Dao and our own inherent virtue.
10,000 methods come & go
From where, to where?
I don’t know
Weary of them all
Something else arises – of itself
Can’t really call it a method
Call it wuweidao
*image source: Richard Sears – thank you!