MINDFULNESSACCORDING TO WILLIAM WORDSWORTH                         By Dr Ian Ellis-JonesThis may sound like rank heresy – ...
Set out below, sourced from that wonderful anthology, The Rider Book ofMystical Verse, is a manuscript fragment of some ve...
Here are the lines:          I seemed to learn,          That what we see of forms and images          Which float along o...
constant judgments, we begin to live mindfully as opposed to mindlessly. Ifwe can simply watch and observe, and acknowledg...
As a sidelight, so many of Wordsworths poems capture the spirit ofperceiving life as it unfolds or happens in the moment ....
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MINDFULNESS ACCORDING TO WILLIAM WORDSWORTH

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Copyright 2012 Ian Ellis-Jones. All Rights Reserved.

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MINDFULNESS ACCORDING TO WILLIAM WORDSWORTH

  1. 1. MINDFULNESSACCORDING TO WILLIAM WORDSWORTH By Dr Ian Ellis-JonesThis may sound like rank heresy – which in any event I’m very good at –but it seems, having read a couple of full-length biographies of the man,that the English poet William Wordsworth (pictured above, and below onpage 4) - a mystical giant of the Romantic Age - must have been a mostegotistical man. In one sense, that is rather ironic, for despite the egotism– or perhaps as a result of it – Wordsworth had an incredible insight intothe illusory nature of the ‘self’ and was thus cognisant of the nature ofreality as a ‘process’ – for want of a better word – which unfolds from onemoment to the next. That is the essence of mindfulness.Now, it has been said that Wordsworth’s most pretentious and perhapsegotistical poem was a long autobiographical account of his ‘development’as a poet. He originally planned to call this three-part poem ‘The Recluse.’Only two of the three parts were ever written – ‘The Excursion’ (1814) and‘The Prelude’ (1850). The latter, according to Helen Davies, is ‘uniqueamong English poems, in that it possesses the double value of art andauthenticity.’ 1
  2. 2. Set out below, sourced from that wonderful anthology, The Rider Book ofMystical Verse, is a manuscript fragment of some verse penned byWordsworth and apparently intended for ‘The Prelude.’ The fragment wascontained in a manuscript notebook containing Peter Bell. In these twentyrarely quoted lines the master shows that he understood the nature of so-called ‘consciousness’, which he describes as ‘forms and images/ Whichfloat along our minds’, being mental images ‘not worthy to be deemed/ Ourbeing, to be prized as what we are.’ Indeed, these waxing and waning ‘I’moments are nothing but ‘the very littleness of life’ – ‘accidents,/ Relapsesfrom the one interior life/ That lives in all things.’That is very profound. There is a supposed ‘self’ which we mistakenlybelieve is the real ‘person’ each of us is. Then there is the real person. Theformer are mere ‘forms,’ ‘images,’ and ‘accidents.’ The latter is the verylivingness of life itself that ‘lives in all things, sacred [that is, set apart – thetrue meaning of the word] from the touch/ Of that false secondary power[namely, ‘mental agitation’ in the form of thoughts and images arising outof our illusory sense of self] by which/ In weakness we create distinctions.’Wordsworth goes on to refer to ‘our puny boundaries’ [the result ofjudgments, analysis and criticism ... as well as beliefs and prejudices]which we mistakenly believe are actual ‘things.’ It is the ultimate in ‘self[sic]-deception,’ and the whole thing prevents us from seeing andexperiencing ‘things’ as they really are. 2
  3. 3. Here are the lines: I seemed to learn, That what we see of forms and images Which float along our minds, and what we feel Of active or recognisable thought, Prospectiveness, or intellect, or will, Not only is not worthy to be deemed Our being, to be prized as what we are, But is the very littleness of life. Such consciousness I deem but accidents, Relapses from the one interior life That lives in all things, sacred from the touch Of that false secondary power by which In weakness we create distinctions, then Believe that all our puny boundaries are things Which we perceive and not which we have made; — In which all beings live with god, themselves Are god, existing in the mighty whole, As undistinguishable as the cloudless East At noon is from the cloudless West, when all The hemisphere is one cerulean blue.I hope the connection with the practice of mindfulness is clear. Mindfulnessis a way of living in which one is aware – and aware of being aware – ofthe action of the present moment … from one moment to the next. If weremain choicelessly aware of that action, and resist the temptation to make 3
  4. 4. constant judgments, we begin to live mindfully as opposed to mindlessly. Ifwe can simply watch and observe, and acknowledge what is, turmoil andconflict dissipate. Maybe that sounds too good to be true, but it’s not. Isthere any disputation where there is acceptance of what is? It is simplyimpossible.Now, in order to live mindfully it is unnecessary to embrace Wordsworth’spantheism – note his words, ‘In which all being live with god, themselves/Are god, existing in the mighty whole,’ in what for Wordsworth appears tobe a giant undifferentiated reality. As for me, I am simply content to see allthings as being part of life’s Self-expression. I refer to the word ‘Self’ with acapital ‘S’ because I want to draw attention to what I see as the inherentsacredness or holiness of all life – such sacredness or holiness subsistingor manifesting itself in the ‘natural’ and ‘everyday’ as opposed to thesupposedly ‘supernatural’. I also use the word ‘Self’ in this context in itsmore mystical sense and in distinct contradistinction to that illusory ego-self which we mistakenly believe is the person each of us truly is.It’s not hard to find poems and other writings from Eastern traditions on thenature of mindfulness and the illusory ‘self.’ However, it may come as asurprise to some that there are a number of poems from the great poets ofEnglish literature which reveal that their authors understood that being fullypresent and engaged in the action of the present moment, from onemoment to the next, is the only way to dis-identify from those ephemeral‘forms and images/ Which float along our minds’ with which we mindlesslyidentify and which we allow to have so much power over us – ordinarily tothe detriment of or happiness, peace of mind and emotional equanimity. 4
  5. 5. As a sidelight, so many of Wordsworths poems capture the spirit ofperceiving life as it unfolds or happens in the moment ... fully andunconditionally. The Daffodils is one poem which immediately comes tomind. Note the directness and immediacy of the experience of awarenessand observation in these oft-quoted lines: ‘When all at once I saw a crowd,/A host, of golden daffodils;/ Beside the lake, beneath the trees,/ Flutteringand dancing in the breeze …Ten thousand saw I at a glance,/ Tossingtheir heads in sprightly dance.’ Then theres ‘The Sun Has Long Been Set’where the directness and immediacy of the experience of moment-to-moment awareness and observation is almost racy: ‘The sun has longbeen set,/ The stars are out by twos and threes,/ The little birds are pipingyet/ Among the bushes and trees;/ Theres a cuckoo, and one or twothrushes,/ And a far-off wind that rushes,/ And a sound of water thatgushes,/ And the cuckoos sovereign cry/ Fills all the hollow of the sky.’Egotist or not – who can really say – the man who wrote those immortaloft-quoted lines, ‘trailing clouds of glory do we come/ From God, who is ourhome,’ clearly understood the importance of recognising that each of us isa ‘person among persons’ – part of a ‘mighty whole’ of which we can bemindfully aware as constituting our true being. -oo0oo- 5

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