The Examined Life
Not a typical manifesto, but a manifesto all the same
When people hear that I’ve co-written a book called The Mindful Manifesto, they sometimes approach me with questions about the title, such as: “Manifesto? Do you mean that meditation is a party political act?,” or “Isn't a manifesto all about action and meditation all about sitting still?”
These are good questions, and there is an interesting relationship between the practice of mindfulness, which involves making space to observe the patterns of experience without getting caught up in them, and living life in an engaged and compassionate way.
In the book, Jonty Heaversedge and I argue that practicing meditation is a skillful way to cultivate well-being—both personal and social. If we can learn to watch the flow of our own thoughts, feelings, habits and biases, seeing them with ever-greater clarity, then we are in a good position to bring that understanding to act more wisely in our lives. By taking time out to do less, our actions are more likely to be skillful. It’s a bit like the instructions to put your own oxygen mask on first in an airplane emergency—that apparently selfish action allows us to help others more effectively.
The word “manifesto” derives from the Latin verb manifestare, which means “to show plainly.” In English, to manifest means “to become apparent.” Our suggestion is that by learning how to be, we might start to release a wisdom that can show us plainly how things are, and that this might form the ground for knowing what to do.
By using the word manifesto in this way, we are hoping to reclaim its true meaning—not so much a plan of action, but a call to being. So it isn’t the usual kind of manifesto—there’s no great scheme to solve all our problems instantly. Instead, it’s an invitation to let go of doing, at least for a time, and learn how to be. This, we suggest, could make a real difference to our well-being, not just as individuals, but as couples, families, communities, nations—and as a planet. Whether it’s relationship issues, an unhealthy addiction, or the threat of war, we can create space for choices to emerge.
By working with meditation, we deliberately and gently bring more awareness to our experience. Gradually, as we pay attention, we begin to notice how we get caught up on automatic pilot, unconsciously playing out patterns that create stress and suffering. We learn to tolerate our impulse to follow patterns that don’t serve us. We cultivate a gap between thought and action, and gradually, as we become more skilled in our practice, the ability to dwell in this gap grows, and we are impelled less and less into knee-jerk reactions.
Mindfulness is simple to learn, and a growing body of scientific research shows it can help with many different issues. From working with stress, anxiety and depression and helping us look after our physical health, to letting go of unskillful behavior patterns and nurturing our relationships with others, as well as fostering greater health and happiness in our schools, workplaces and other community settings, there doesn’t seem to be any situation in which more mindfulness wouldn’t be useful.
It can be practiced on the bus, in the supermarket, at your desk, or in bed. You don’t need special equipment—just your mind and body. And while proficiency takes work, you don’t have to spend years meditating in an ashram or monastery to make a difference—according to one study, less than a week’s practice of 20 minutes a day can be enough to start producing measurable shifts. This then, is what we mean by a mindful manifesto—not a pre-defined program of action, but an opportunity for wisdom to manifest in each moment.
In the next few blogs, I’ll be sharing a few extracts from the book, exploring the science, art and practice of mindfulness, and suggesting how it can help in a range of life situations.
The Mindful Manifesto, by Dr Jonty Heaversedge and Ed Halliwell, is published by Hay House this month, and available from Amazon.com.