Looking outside ourselves for justification that we are worthwhile human beings can be an enormous drain on energy.
Agonising over whether we are enough, do enough or have enough is what the problem of justification is about.
In fact a whole branch of the Christian religion was started to deal with this angst! Do we compare ourselves with others and feel we are lacking? Do we feel inadequate in our faculties, our life path, or our spending power?
Why doesn’t reassurance that we’re worthwhile ever seem to fill the gaping hole of insecurity? Why does a spadeful of others’ reassurance count for less than half a teaspoonful of disapproval?
No: looking outside for justification ends in disappointment. Out there - where the accolades, achievements and awards invite; where status, adulation and celebrity seduce like streetwalkers - is not the source of justification. Out there, at best, can only be a confirmation that we are safe and sound - otherwise known as “saved”. But it is not the place to go to discover whether we are in fact safe and sound.
Temptation is the hollow promise that an external thing has the power to justify us.
Last time we saw that mindfulness is all about how we place our attention. How do we know we’ve hit the mark? We feel the grace of justification. We are graceful - full of grace. We are also grateful - to be rid of the angst. To miss the mark, to err, is for our attention to slip away from where it should be. A wrong action is the result of giving too much attention to empty promises.
If we do not decide the proper placement of our attention, then who or what will?
Fragmentation is when our mind - and therefore our attention - is splintered into many jarring bits and directions. Fragments of consciousness, like special interest groups in the parliamentary lobby of our mind, cannot make the critical decisions about attention placement for us. Nor can the seeming emotional demands of others. Flinging ourselves into a yet-busier environment does not relieve us of the responsibility for mindfulness : for where we should place our attention and what we should do.
We choose most of the environments and locations we find ourselves in. We also to a great extent choose the company we keep. So let us choose wisely! Mindfulness - the choice behind all choices; the choice to focus - implies we have free will. But, with free will, it is good to talk in the first person singular.
Free will doesn’t mean I stand outside my human nature or pretend I’m an island uninfluenced by obligation to family, friends and community.
In exercising free will I know I am an individual, acknowledging my natural instincts and my social conditioning, and deciding in a unique moment of time how to honour both. How to do justice to both. Exercising free will means making a judgment.
Right judgment demonstrates that my will is free; wrong judgment suggests I’m still a slave.
The hierarchical organisations of modern life can leave us feeling like slaves, robots or cogs in a machine. We are busier and more distracted than our ancestors, with a complex, division-of-labour economy buzzing in our ears. We’re required to be more single-minded and specialised than ever; but also, simultaneously, to be abreast of the latest developments outside our patch.
Today’s youth could be looking at a dozen different jobs before they are out of their thirties. We can’t afford to get too broad, and we can’t afford to get too narrow.
We’re on a spectrum between sharp mindful focus and the passive background of meditation that lets in the myriad competing claims and potential distractions of daily life. Multi-tasking would descend into chaos if we could not hold onto a thread of awareness that connects all the beads of activity. This thread in the background may not get a chance to be verbally expressed. But it can mean the difference between mental wellness and illness.