National Public Radio for the Mind

At our Wednesday mindfulness meditation practice group here at USC, which is part of our initiative, I start our sessions with a very short introduction to the practice, and end the 30 minutes of silence with a time for the students and staff who attend to share about how their practice is going. At a recent session, I shared an observation that came to me while I was meditating. "It seems to me that mindfulness practice is a lot like National Public Radio. You know, much of the time, what's running in our heads is like talk radio -- it's Rush Limbaugh or Fox News distorting the facts with loud and often angry opinions. But what we are trying to do here is be like NPR for our own minds. We are carefully observing the news about what is going on in our immediate experience, and then reporting it to ourselves, letting go of any opinions about it."

In my childhood, we could always count on Walter Cronkite for the straight scoop. "And that's the way it is," he said every night at the end of the CBS News. He had a kindly, worn face and a steady, sonorous voice that was reassuring even when the news he delivered was terrible. Mindfulness meditation is about observing our thoughts, feelings, sensations and urges with deep interest and a calm, caring attitude and then silently saying to ourselves: "And that's the way it is." Not how it ought to be, not how we wish it was, but how it actually is. It's the practice of being Cokie Roberts of NPR Morning Edition for ourselves.

NPR is far from being the voice of God, as was that of Walter Cronkite, godlike as he seemed to so many Americans back in the 1960's. No news media outlet is perfectly unbiased. But as far as it goes, there is an analogy here. The eye within us that sees us as we really are is God's. The ear within us that hears what's really going on in our lives is God's. The voice that tells us "and that's the way it is" about ourselves is God's. Mindfulness is prayer: intentionally opening ourselves to the God's-eye-view of our inner life. It's divine journalism that wakes us up to our interior reality, enabling us to make clearer choices that can lead us to practice greater compassion.


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Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California