When we think there’s something wrong with us, the only thing that’s really wrong is that we think there is something wrong. When things don’t go our way, we create our own suffering by wishing things were different than they are, rather than exploring ways to embrace the moment and find the gift within. Meditation is a practice of letting go in order to find equanimity for what is. Our resistance to accepting things as they are is the worst part, so the instruction is to instead turn towards and lean into the experience with a dignified and courageous heart. When we can allow and be with whatever is present, it can then soften and release, instead of contracting and solidifying within the body and psyche which causes dis-ease.
“Many psychologists have identified the ability to truly “be with” one another as the most important gift a psychotherapist has to offer to a client in psychological pain. The ability to be with others comes from being able to be with oneself no matter what state of mind one may be experiencing: vivid emotions, confusing thoughts, or quiet peacefulness.” – Naropa University, Clinical Mental Health Counseling
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is paying attention to the Present Moment with acceptance. This means being with what is, without trying to change it in any way, while holding an attitude of friendly indifference about whatever you find. Applying mindfulness to experience means contacting it directly with bare attention, before any kind of commentary or interpretation gets put onto it. Labeling the experience with thought is a secondary process that freezes or separates out the living fullness of reality by cutting it off from its inherently fluctuating state. Rather, mindfulness embraces the present with such clarity that it perceives the living existence exactly as it is. This is something that has to be experienced subjectively and cultivated. It cannot be grasped through thinking about it. On the contrary, thinking about it or trying to make it happen will block the ability to actually be mindful because those efforts end up replacing the experience with a pale shadow of its true nature. The true nature of reality is luminous emptiness, boundless spaciousness. This cannot be perceived if the space is being filled with thought about the way it should or shouldn’t be. One must rest the awareness back in order to receive whatever the present moment has to offer.
Mindfulness includes concentration of an object of awareness that anchors it to the present moment. Usually this is done by following the breath, since breathing is happening constantly without needing to try to make it happen. Therefore, mindfulness is also an act of remembering to come back to the direct sensations of breathing that are tied in with the here and now if the mind wanders off course. Then just noticing, observing what unfolds from one moment to the next with an open curiosity. Patience is key, stick with it and persevere through the many thresholds of mental constructs to deeper clarity of the supreme truth of consciousness. “insight meditation is a practice of investigative personal discovery.” (Gunaratana, 2015, p. 28)
Why is understanding the ground of inherent wakefulness essential to mindfulness practice?
Our most natural, basic state is inherently wakeful. It is the witness that is able to watch the unfolding, changing show of consciousness awareness. This is important to mindfulness practice because it is the mechanism of mindfulness itself. It is what is utilized as the ability to pay attention, the eye of perception that receives our experience. Without understanding the natural wakefulness of our being, we would have no ground from which to base a practice.
Our true nature is innately wise and good. It is this foundation that the mindfulness practice is geared towards putting us back in touch with. Mindfulness helps us remember and reconnect to the peace and freedom that is available in any moment as our birth right. “Our original nature is the single most important element on the path of waking up. Why? Because it is essential ingredient – without the natural impulse to wake up, there cannot be a path of meditation or a spiritual journey at all.” (Ferguson, 2009, p. 15) We don’t have to “manufacture” our own Buddha nature because its already there. Meditation is the process of uncovering and then expressing this natural wakefulness within.
What is the purpose of training in mindfulness meditation?
Since mindfulness helps to touch the moment directly in the purest way possible, it is the most real and honest way to live. Ultimately, living mindfully leads to liberation from all suffering. Suffering is created when the ego clings to or repels against what is presently happening. Over time this manifests into hardened states in the body/mind that reduce the natural flow of life in its purest form. Mindfulness works to dissolve away these mistakenly solidified realities and purify the mind from emotional bondage. It helps to unwind limiting beliefs and soften the tensions that build up to protect the raw pulsing of the heart. Practicing mindfulness is a way of de-layering the cocoon as it armors against the vulnerability of basic aliveness. “We have built walls all around ourselves and are trapped in the prison of our own likes and dislikes. We suffer.” (Gunaratana, 2015, p. 5)
Practicing mindfulness meditation helps to develop greater insight and awareness that can then be applied towards navigating the ups and downs of life with more ease and grace. Rather than being caught up with the ego’s agenda of grasping at or aversion to what is happening, one applies a radical acceptance of the way things truly are by cultivating clarity and kindness towards whatever occurs in the current conscious state. This helps steer away from being at the whim of the discomfort of emotional states or trying to control what we cannot.
Furthermore, this increased self-awareness and acceptance leads to a greater ability to respond with flexibility and choice, rather than reacting unconsciously through stuck ways that perpetuate suffering. Practicing mindfulness meditation assists one in apprehending and embracing the essence of reality as impermanent, therefore avoiding the trap of being locked into attachment. Rather than wishing it was another way, you can courageously turn toward what’s actually there. Only from this place of inner acceptance can you make the choice to make changes. Mindfulness fosters the ability to be relaxed and poised at the same time, which over time will lead to less struggle in life.
What are some ways mindfulness meditation might be misunderstood?
Misconceptions about meditation: that it is used only as a relaxation technique or to become psychic; that it means going into a trance; that its mysterious, dangerous or selfish; that its only for holy people and not regular people; that it is a way to avoid reality, get high or think lofty thoughts; that it will quickly make all your problems go away. The response is always the same, meditation is used to develop greater awareness of reality.
We don’t sit in meditation to become good meditators. We sit in meditation so that we’ll become more awake in our lives. – Pema Chödrön