Bioethics Blogs

Mindfulness and morality

Every day, for about thirty-five minutes, I sit cross-legged on a cushion with my eyes shut. I regulate my breath, titrating its speed against numbers in my head; I watch my breath surging and trickling in and out of my chest; I feel the air at the point of entry and exit; I export my mind to a point just beyond my nose and pour the breath into that point. When my mind wanders off, I tug it back.

The practice is systematic and arduous. In some ways it is complex: it involves 16 distinct stages. When I am tired, and the errant mind won’t come quietly back on track, I find it helpful to summarise the injunctions to myself to these:

  • I am here
  • This is it

I alternate the emphases: ‘I am here’: ‘I am here’; ‘I am here’; ‘This is it’; ‘This is it’; ‘This is it.’

I note (although not usually, and not ideally, when I’m in the middle of the practice) that each of these connotations presumes something about the existence of an ‘I’. This is less obvious with the second proposition, but clearly there: ‘This’ is something that requires a subject.

This is Samatha meditation, a Buddhist practice that aims to develop concentration (the ability to keep my mind on the task at hand) and mindfulness (the wider view of myself that allows me to recognize that I’ve wandered, and prompts me to return). The relationship between the ‘I’ that’s attached to the task and the ‘I’ that summons the concentrating ‘I’ back to the job is fascinating and mysterious.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.