Sunday, January 17, 2010
The Buddha said that those who are mindless are as if dead already. To me, mindfulness is the fullness of attention, the quality of immediacy, and non-distraction. It is being present, and truly alive no matter what is happening, no matter how unpleasant.
Mindfulness is the quality that allows us to observe without judging. Normally, we hear sounds, taste tastes, or experience emotions, and immediately make a decision around them based on a whole complex of conditioning that shapes, colors, and filters our realities. We like something, we don't like something, and instantly our mind has already jumped ahead, drawing conclusions based on those judgements.
An example of how our conditioning shapes our experience can be illustrated by a simple condiment. One day I was invited by my friend to lunch at the new ethnic restaurant his father had just opened. I bit down on a whole pepper and my mouth just caught fire.
I remarked to my friend that I didn't like the taste of chilies, and he said, "Well, we don't like the taste of chilis either, but we believe that the stinging sensation will clear the palate and that it's good for digestion and health."
We went on to talk about what the natural property of the chili is and how it creates a physiological sensation of burning, which is a direct experience. But the next aspect of that reality is what we make of the experience. And how a cultural belief system can be part of the experience.
So my friend bites down on a chili, feels the burning, and reflects, "That is a good blessing for my health."
And here I was thinking, "I've got to get out of this restaurant! Maybe I can go somewhere and get a salad!"
The experience of tasting the pepper can be a metaphor, for our way of being in the world.
In the normal course of our days, our judements come so quickly and so strongly, we're lost in them. Consequently, we're out of touch with our lives, and all life. I'm already somewhere else with my imaginary salad instead of here, in the moment, with the pepper. We can use mindfulness to create a space between experience and interpretation. In that space, we can open beyond our conditioning to new possibilities and new understandings. And maybe even find a blessing hiding in the event.
A simple way of practicing mindfulness is to make a mental label of sensations. If you feel sleepy, you might say to yourself, "sleepy." If you have a thought, you say "thinking." When I was first studying meditation, I was given the instruction to try to make mental notes all the time. Whether I was sitting or doing walking meditation, I was trying to make a mental note. I began to notice that the single most common note I made was "waiting." I was waiting for something more exciting, important, or spiritually significant to happen. Wanting something more, different, better.
When I paid attention to that note, to the "waiting," I could begin to let the waiting go and be connected with what was. I could taste the pepper. And say, "thank you."
May you be blessed!