How Mindfulness Helps You See What's Missing (And Why You'd Want To)

In Basic Mindfulness (the system of Mindfulness I teach) there’s a term called “Gone.” Gone refers to any moment of partial or complete disappearance that you happen to notice. It’s as simple as that. If you notice a bird stop chirping, if you notice an itch become less itchy, if you notice a car pass by and disappear from view, you could call these events “Gone.”

The technique sensitizes you to a fundamental truth: everything is always disappearing. Impermanence is something you can understand intellectually, as in “this too shall pass.” But your world really begins to change when you know impermanence experientially, discovering moment by moment that no sooner does the activity in any of your senses arise, than it is already disappearing. This inevitably leads to the insight that there is no “self” as a thing, no thing-ness at all.

What I find tragically fascinating about this technique is how frequently students think they’re doing it wrong or don’t believe they can do it at all. Why would this be? A closer look at our senses reveals that everything is forever disappearing, yet students doubt their ability to notice one little moment of disappearance, successfully. It doesn’t even need to be total disappearance – a partial dropoff will do just fine! Students often speak of “Gone” like a bus that has passed them by. They almost caught it, but now they’re stuck waiting for another one which won’t come for an hour or so … and they’ll probably miss that one too!

Something happened to me the other day that gave me insight into this dilemma, and illuminated the trap our minds so easily get caught in. Someone did something really caring and I nearly missed it. I nearly missed it because it happened fast. In passing, this person said something wonderful about me to someone else. The moment came and went and I noticed it, but it wasn’t until later that I reflected back and fully appreciated it. I nearly missed it because I had other expectations about what the situation would bring. I thought things would unfold differently; I thought some other unfolding would be better. And my head almost got so wrapped up in those hopes and expectations that I missed the beautiful way this person expressed her caring. I nearly missed it. I was also preoccupied with other aspects of my life, places where I didn’t feel supported. Because of that, I nearly missed how and where support was actually showing up.

These minds of ours get stuck – sometimes terribly, terribly stuck. And in that near-miss moment, I realized the price we pay for getting stuck. The caring we’re oblivious to. The underappreciated moments. The profound misunderstandings. The unnecessary alienation.

I feel so lucky to have caught the bus of that beautiful moment. Because, despite the fact that buses are forever showing up in ever changing form, the sad truth is if you can’t see this bus showing up right now, you're likely to miss the next one, and the next one, and the next one. Only when you manage to drop your hopes, expectations and preoccupations for a moment do you give the mind a chance to see the gift imminently arriving. This is a discipline. It’s an essential skill to develop. As my own example illustrates, your capacity to give and receive love depends on it.

The good news is that you absolutely can develop this skill! Isn’t that a miracle? Mindfulness helps you choose what you focus on, become clear about what you’re noticing and accept what you’re experiencing. And somehow these three unique facets of mindfulness magically combine to enrich all the moments of your life.

All you need to do is put in a few minutes a day. The time will pass, one way or the other. Getting back to “Gone,” here’s the interesting thing about noticing disappearances: The better able you are to bring mindful awareness to the vanishings, the more available you are for the vital unfolding of any given moment. That’s how it works. Because they are never separate … just two perfect sides of the same rich nothingness.

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