“Mindfulness, declared the Buddha, is all helpful.”
Mindfulness is one of the major principles of Buddhist philosophy as mindful attention to any experience is liberating. Mindfulness brings perspective, balance, and freedom. When we are present to our living, in that moment, understanding unfolds naturally.
Consider how this practice could be extremely healing now during a time when both collectively and individually many are feeling life and a way of living crumbling and disappearing as we know it. Fear, feelings of loss, anger, sadness, depression, anxiety, frustrations, even boredom may be overwhelming the emotional body and even impacting the physical body too.
I truly believe that collectively we haven’t been taught the tools or skills to deal with the times we are in, yet these modalities have existed for thousands of years. Practicing mindfulness is one of those tools and is quite easy as you can do it anywhere and all you have to do is ask yourself if you are being mindful.
You focus on four critical areas of experience as you undertake a meditative practice as explained by renowned Buddhist meditation teacher, Jack Kornfield, in his book The Wise Heart. In Buddhism it’s called the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. Here is a simple overview:
- Your body. When something is difficult in your life, you first want to be aware to what’s happening in your body. Can you locate where your difficulties are being held? In yoga you are taught to bring breathe to that area which you can do but just being aware is enough.
- Your feelings. What feelings are part of this difficulty? Are you experiencing some primary feelings with a layer of secondary feelings? With mindfulness each feeling is recognized and accepted. This also allows you to feel the emotion in your body and what happens to it when it is held in awareness.
- Your mind. What images and thoughts are associated with this difficulty? You’ll notice all the stories, judgement, beliefs surfacing and chattering away. On closer reflection you’ll see they are outdated, habitual thinking. With mindfulness you can let go the hold these stories have on you and not grasp for them as much.
- Your dharma. It can mean the path of Buddhism, the Truth or in this case also means the elements and patterns that make up experience (a good way to bring this into context is to see it with a little “d” as in dharma, while Truth is with a big “D” or Dharma). This means we are endeavoring to be mindful of, to consider, the Dharma or Truth in the phenomena of experience. For example, asking yourself is this experience as solid as it appears? Does the difficulty expand or contract the space in your mind? Is it under control or does it have a life of its own? Are you clinging to it, resisting it or simply letting it be? dharma is reflection for the purpose of insight. You are directing the observing power of the mind in order to see for yourself the Dharma (Truth) in the dharmas (all arising and passing experiences).
ESTABLISHING A MINDFULNESS PRACTICE
This is best done on a regular basis so try to have a sacred space or quiet place to sit comfortably, as well as a set time for the practice that suits you. I find that once you have established a regular meditative practice then you’ll find it’s easier to have a mindfulness practice when and wherever you may find yourself.
Begin with sitting 10 or 20 minutes at a time. You can then sit longer or more frequently as your practice gets established as a routine much like brushing your teeth or taking a shower.
Sit erect without being rigid. Let your body feel firmly planted on the earth, your hands resting easily, your heart soft, your eyes closed gently. Sense if there is any obvious tension and let this go as well as any thoughts. Now bring your attention to your breathing. Take a few deep breathes to sense where you can feel your breath most easily – is it in the nostrils, throat, chest or abdomen? Now let your breath be natural, relaxing into each breath as you feel it, noticing how the softness of breath just comes and goes.
Your attention may wander and that’s okay. Just be aware and come back to your breathing. You can mindfully acknowledge where your mind has gone with a soft word such as “thinking,” “itchy,” “distracted,” then you can come back to your relaxed breath. When strong feelings, emotions or sensations come up, receive them with the same mindful attention you give your breathing. When they pass return to the breath. As you continue to sit with your breath just allow them to come as they may – steady, short, fast or easy. When your breath becomes soft and relaxed let your attention become gentle and careful like a reflective mirror of your breath itself.
This process of “coming back to your gentle breath and awareness” will happen over and over and over again. It takes lots of practice to gain some mastery using your breath. Some days will be easier than others. Just stay with it as this awareness of breath helps to steady and quiet the mind and body. It is from this initial mindfulness that you can meet other experiences that arise (as described in the Four Foundations of Mindfulness) with balance.
This is how you best stay centered amidst your ever-changing life.
*Mindfulness meditation adapted from A Wise Heart.