William F. Bellais II
At a conference titled, “Spirit-filled Care for the Dying”, I was reminded of my readings in existential literature when the speaker, the Rev’d Dr. Kathleen Rusnak (a Lutheran pastor and hospice chaplain) talked about the “mindfulness of being” and the “forgetfulness of being”. These concepts are sometimes difficult to grasp in everyday living, but they are a part of everyday and it is good to grasps the ideas those words and make them personal.
The forgetfulness of being is a state most of us are in much of the time. The mindfulness of being may flash across our brains when we think about mortality, or read of a fatal accident, or come across one while driving; however, most of the time we live in a condition of forgetfulness of being. The forgetfulness of being helps us deal with day-to-day life. If we were always in a morbid frame of mind, life would not go on. In morbidity we are depressed and feel useless asking, “Why go on?” or thinking, “All that matters is this moment.”
Of course, this is not a new idea. For example, in the apocryphal book The Wisdom of Solomon, there is a passage early in the text where Solomon (presumably) describes the tone of the cynic’s of life whose motto is, “eat, drink, and be merry; life is short and tomorrow we die” (1:16—2:21). The forgetfulness of being is clearly portrayed in the character of the cynic. There is for him no reason to be thoughtful about his demise. The cynic believes there are no second chances, no redemption, and no hope for the future. Because the cynic has no sense of being (as Solomon describes it), he attacks and brutalizes the righteous, particularly a Righteous Man who claims to be the child of God. The cynic has no reason to care about Righteous Man or any other human being including himself. Possibly, as the cynic nears death, he may begin to have a sense of being (the mindfulness of existence), but for most of his life he is in a state of forgetfulness. That forgetfulness deprives him of the ability to clearly analyze his condition in life and he is deprived of the possibility of finding freedom in being thoughtful of the Righteous Man or anyone else. Solomon’s cynic is focused only on his central fact of life; that is, life is short. Therefore, the cynic reasons there are no consequences to behavior. According to Solomon, the cynic maintains that the chosen path is evil and evil has the cynic in its sway. In Solomon’s reasoning evil only considers the consequence of the moment.
Compared with the eons of life on this particular planet, each person, each of us, can only expect to be a part of the earthly environment for a miniscule part of time. Those who consider the shortness of life as a challenge to improve the conditions of life have a better sense of self and try to live to be fulfilled rather than entertained. This is not morbid thinking but rather a useful in dealing with the changes and chances of life. In other words, to be thoughtful about what we are, what we do, and what will be our legacy is the outcome of a mindfulness of being. Mindfulness of being challenges us to live full and rich lives, which leads to love of life and the love of beauty. If I understand what Solomon is driving toward, that is the goal of the Righteous Man in the Book of the Wisdom of Solomon. Because he cares, he is counted as righteous. Because of his willingness to speak for the good he is a danger to the cynic and therefore he must be stopped.
The mindfulness of life provides a base on which to build a stable and ordered society. In an ordered and stable society there is no thought of controlling people for political power, but instead the stable and ordered society functions because of the care for the person. Care for the person requires that everyone be mindful of the life of the other.