Mindfulness

On life's journey faith is nourishment, virtuous deeds are a shelter, wisdom is the light by day and right mindfulness is the protection by night. If a man lives a pure life nothing can destroy him; if he has conquered greed nothing can limit his freedom.

Mindfulness should be strong everywhere, for mindfulness keeps the mind away from distraction, into which it might fall, since faith, energy and understanding partake of the nature of distraction: and away from idleness, into which it might fall, since concentration partakes of the nature of idleness.

Satipatthana Sutta - The Foundation of Mindfulness Translated from Pali: A monk lives contemplating the body in the body, ardent, clearly comprehending and mindful, having overcome, in this world, covetousness, and grief; he lives contemplating feelings in feelings, ardent, clearly comprehending and mindful, having overcome, in this world, covetousness and grief; he lives contemplating consciousness in consciousness, ardent, clearly comprehending and mindful, having overcome, in this world, covetousness and grief; he lives contemplating mental objects in mental objects, ardent, clearly comprehending and mindful, having overcome, in this world, covetousness and grief.

The purpose of meditation practice is not enlightenment; it is to pay attention even at un-extraordinary times, to be of the present, nothing-but-the-present, to bear this mindfulness of now into each even of ordinary life.

Faith is the inspiration of nobleness, it is the strength of integrity; it is the life of love, and is everlasting growth for it; it is courage of soul, and bridges over for our crossing the gulf between worldliness and heavenly-mindfulness; and it is the sense of the unseen, without which we could not feel God nor hope for heaven.

Mindfulness is the way to deathlessness, inattentiveness the way to death. Those who are diligently attentive do not die, those who are thoughtless are as if dead already.

This middle path… is the noble path, namely: right views, right intent, right speech, right conduct, right means of livelihood, right endeavor, right mindfulness, right meditation… Which leads to insights, leads to wisdom, which conduces to calm, to knowledge, to perfect enlightenment, to Nirvana.

This is the Noble Eightfold Path: right views, right intention; right speech, right action, right livelihood; right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.

He searches all around for his thought. But what thought? It is either passionate, or hateful, or confused. What about the past, future or present? What is past that is extinct, what is future that has not yet arrived, and the present has no stability. For thought, Kasyapa, cannot be apprehended, inside, or outside, or in between both. For thought is immaterial, invisible, nonresisting, inconceivable, unsupported, and homeless. Thought has never been seen by any of the Buddhas, nor do they see it, nor will they see it. And what the Buddhas never see, how can that be an observable process, except in the sense that dharmas proceed by the way of mistaken perception? Thought is like a magical illusion; by an imagination of what is actually unreal it takes hold of a manifold variety of rebirths. A thought is like the stream of a river, without any staying power; as soon as it is produced it breaks up and disappears. A thought is like a flame of a lamp, and it proceeds through causes and conditions. A thought is like lightning, it breaks up in a moment and does not stay on... Can thought review thought? No, thought cannot review thought. As the blade of a sword cannot cut itself, so a thought cannot see itself. Moreover, vexed and pressed hard on all sides, thought proceeds, without any staying power, like a monkey or like the wind. It ranges far, bodiless, easily changing, agitated by the objects of sense, with the six sense-fields for its sphere, connected with one thing after another. The stability of thought, its one-pointedness, its immobility, its undistraughtness, its one-pointed calm, its nondistraction, that is on the other hand called mindfulness as to thought.

Happiness is not external; it is not a function of what one does or does not. Happiness is in the attitude that one brings to everything one does... So if we create our own happiness, what should we be aiming toward? The answer: happiness is the fulfillment of our dreams, the accomplishment of what we set out to do, living our lives as we want to live them... Happiness, then, can reside in the carrying out of the myriad everyday tasks that we all take for granted, with one very small, but significant difference. Outwardly, we may be doing what we always do, but inwardly, our entire being is immersed and engaged more fully n each and every action, a condition known as mindfulness.

Happiness is not external; it is not a function of what one does or does not. Happiness is in the attitude that one brings to everything one does... So if we create our own happiness, what should we be aiming toward? The answer: happiness is the fulfillment of our dreams, the accomplishment of what we set out to do, living our lives as we want to live them... Happiness, then, can reside in the carrying out of the myriad everyday tasks that we all take for granted, with one very small, but significant difference. Outwardly, we may be doing what we always do, but inwardly, our entire being is immersed and engaged more fully n each and every action, a condition known as mindfulness.

Parenting and family life can be a perfect field for mindfulness practice, but it’s not for the weak-hearted, the selfish or lazy, or the hopelessly romantic. Parenting is a mirror that forces you to look at yourself. If you can learn from what you observe you just may have a chance to keep growing yourself.

The willingness to harm or hurt comes ultimately out of fear. Non-harming requires that you see your own fears and that you understand them and own them. Owning them means taking responsibility for them. Taking responsibility means not letting fear completely dictate your vision or your view. Only mindfulness completely dictate your vision or your view. Only mindfulness of our own clinging and rejecting, and a willingness to grapple with these mind states, however painful the encounter, can free us from this circle of suffering. Without a daily embodiment in practice, lofty ideals tend to succumb to self-interest.

To find the extraordinary in the ordinary, the sacred in the profane, sounds appealing in theory... Everyday spirituality requires mindfulness, an alert quality of mind that nonjudgmentally observes what happens in each moment. When mindfulness is present, a deep, penetrating awareness develops that gives insight into the world and ourselves. This penetrating quality of mind enables us to respond to the present with greater spontaneity and freedom.

Chopping wood is meditation. Carrying water is meditation. Be mindful 24 hours a day, not just during the one hour you may allot for formal meditation or reading scripture and reciting prayers. Each act must be carried out in mindfulness. Each act is a rite, a ceremony. Raising your cup of tea to your mouth is a rite. does the word “rite” seem too solemn? I use the word in order to jolt you into the realization of the life-and-death matter of awareness.

To live with a high degree of artfulness means to attend to the small things that keep the soul engaged in whatever we are doing, and it is the very heart of soul making. From some grand overview of life, it may seem that only the big events are ultimately important. But to the soul, the most minute details and the most ordinary activities, carried out with mindfulness and art, have an effect far beyond their apparent insignificance.

The habit of ignoring our present moments in favor of others yet to come leads directly to a pervasive lack of awareness of the web of life in which we are embedded. This includes a lack of awareness and understanding of our own mind and how it influences our perceptions and our actions. It severely limits our perspective on what it means to be a person and how we are connected to each other and the world around us. Religion has traditionally been the domain of such fundamental inquiries within a spiritual framework, but mindfulness has little to do with religion, except in the most fundamental meaning of the word, as an attempt to appreciate the deep mystery of being alive and to acknowledge being vitally connected to all that exists.

There was once a lady who was arrogant and proud. Determined to attain enlightenment, she asked all the authorities how to go about it. She was told, ‘Well, if you climb to the top of this very high mountain, you'll find a cave there. Sitting inside that cave is a wise old woman. She will tell you.’ Having endured great hardships, the lady finally found this cave. Sure enough, sitting there was a gentle spiritual-looking old woman in white clothing, who smiled beatifically. Overcome with awe and respect, the lady prostrated at the feet of this woman and said, I want to attain enlightenment. Show me how. This wise woman looked at her and asked sweetly, Are you sure you want to attain enlightenment? And the woman said, Of course I'm sure. Whereupon the smiling woman turned into a demon, stood up brandishing a great big stick, and started chasing her, saying, Now! Now! Now! For the rest of her life, that lady could never get away from the demon who was always saying, Now! Now--that's the key. Mindfulness trains us to be awake and alive, fully curious, about now.

Shabbat, or Sabbath, is a kind of retreat. During a Sabbath you do not engage with your environment in order to change it. Shabbat means literally to sit or to cease. When you sit or cease, you become present to the created world. We are so busy creating more, trying to survive and reach goals during the week. Sabbath is a meditation, a 25-hour-a-week mini-retreat. When we go on retreat in a way we are recreating a Sabbath.

In the Talmud (some 1800 years ago) it is said that the holy men of old would sit for an hour before prayer. We don’t have an exact idea of what they were doing, but it was probably a kind of contemplative practice. In the Prophets, Elijah says God doesn’t appear in a thundering storm cloud but in a still, small voice. The primary unpronounced name of God in Hebrew is made up of vowel letters that are sounds of the breath itself. The name denotes Being itself. The very rejection of idol worship is akin to liberation from attachment. Hasidism was a popularization of Jewish mysticism or kabbalah. It originated in eastern Europe in the 18th century and drew on a long and complex history of Jewish meditative literature and practice. Hasidism emphasized practicing with intentionality. It taught a notion of dissolution of ego, expanding consciousness, through ecstatic practices but also through contemplative practices.

We are not Hasidim, but we are inspired by their teachings. I work with a colleague, Rabbi Jonathan Slater, who teaches a weekly course unpacking Hasidism as a mindfulness practice. Was what we think of as mindfulness meditation exactly what they were doing? Probably not. We integrate other contemporary influences into our worldview such as pluralism, egalitarianism, feminism. But we are in their lineage. The Zohar, the classic mystical text, says that there is no place devoid of God’s presence. The Hasidim say: the whole world is filled with glory. If one is able to come to awareness, one is able to realize one is in God’s presence.