Category Archives: Mindfulness

The power of mindfulness

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By Lynn J. Kelly  } The Buddha’s Advice to Laypeople

… Nyanaponika Thera suggested that the first power of mindfulness is to help us “tidy up” the jumble of thoughts, ideas, impressions, and shadows in our minds. After we start sorting the clear from the unclear and the useful from the useless, we can have a closer look by accurately naming the elements in our minds. We may not get the name quite right immediately, and so we might need to re-focus our mindfulness to examine our thoughts more closely.

Once we start to recognize the repetitive thoughts that pass through our minds, we can categorize them, at first into wholesome and unwholesome, or leading towards or away from clarity, and later into more refined groupings.

Sometimes we camouflage our thoughts to make them more palatable. We blame others for our own aversion, or give ourselves (reflected) credit for others’ good acts. We are experts at re-creating our experience to make it more pleasant and to hide any unpleasant aspects of our thinking from ourselves. This is one way we give the defilements a clearer field of play. It is delusion in action and must be exposed through careful inquiry.

[From Nyanaponika Thera] But by applying the simple method of clearly and honestly naming or registering any undesirable thoughts, these two harmful devices, ignorance and camouflage, are excluded. Thence their detrimental consequences on the structure of the subconscious and their diversion of mental effort will be avoided.

The method of naming and registering also extends, of course, to noble thoughts and impulses which will be encouraged and strengthened. Without being given deliberate attention, such wholesome tendencies often pass unnoticed and remain barren. But when clear awareness is applied to them, it will stimulate their growth.

Many of us have a tendency to take our kind or generous thoughts (and actions) for granted. We tick them off and don’t reflect on them, but they can be the basis for confidence and joy in the (heart-)mind.

In the Satipatthana Sutta (MN 10), some of the instructions say:

[Translated by Sujato Bhikkhu] It’s when a mendicant knows mind with greed as ‘mind with greed,’ and mind without greed as ‘mind without greed.’ They know mind with hate as ‘mind with hate,’ and mind without hate as ‘mind without hate.’ They know mind with delusion as ‘mind with delusion,’ and mind without delusion as ‘mind without delusion.’ They know contracted mind as ‘contracted mind,’ and scattered mind as ‘scattered mind.’ … They know mind immersed in samādhi as ‘mind immersed in samādhi,’ and mind not immersed in samādhi as ‘mind not immersed in samādhi.’ They know freed mind as ‘freed mind,’ and unfreed mind as ‘unfreed mind.

Using the power of mindfulness, we can name and categorize the contents of our minds,  and, in this way, walk the path towards awakening.

The full essay is here: https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nyanaponika/wheel121.html

~ By Lynn J. Kelly
from her Aug. 25, 2018 post from her website | Subscribe to her site at:
“The Buddha’s Advice to Laypeople: Guidelines for Developing a Happier Life”

 

 

Friends with our thoughts

Photo by Guillermo Álvarez on Unsplash

Sometimes people think the point of meditation is to stop thinking— to have a silent mind. This does happen occasionally, but it is not necessarily the point of meditation. Thoughts are an important part of life, and mindfulness practice is not supposed to be a struggle against them. We can benefit more by being friends with our thoughts than by regarding them as unfortunate distractions. In mindfulness, we are not stopping thoughts as much as overcoming any preoccupation we have with them. However, mindfulness is not thinking about things, either. It is a non-discursive observation of our life in all its aspects.

In those moments when thinking predominates, mindfulness is the clear and silent awareness that we are thinking. A piece of advice I found helpful and relaxing was when someone said, “For the purpose of meditation, nothing is particularly worth thinking about.” Thoughts can come and go as they wish, and the meditator does not need to become involved with them. We are not interested in engaging in the content of our thoughts. Mindfulness of thinking is simply recognizing that we are thinking.

In meditation, when thoughts are subtle and in the background, or when random thoughts pull us away from awareness of the present, all we have to do is resume mindfulness of breathing. However, when our preoccupation with thoughts is stronger than our ability to let go of them easily, then we direct mindfulness to being clearly aware that thinking is occurring. Strong bouts of thinking are fuelled largely by identification and preoccupation with thoughts. By clearly observing our thinking, we step outside the field of identification. Thinking will usually then soften to a calm and unobtrusive stream.

~ Gil Fronsdal
pp. 57-58

The Practice of Now

Photo by Erik Witsoe on Unsplash

The only time we ever have to live is now. The only time that spiritual practice is done is now. If we’re going to cultivate love and compassion, it has to be in the present moment, because we don’t live in any other moment. So, even though the present is constantly changing, it’s all we have. Life happens now. Our past glories are simply that. Our past hurts are not happening now. Our future dreams are simply future dreams. The future tragedies we concoct do not exist at this time.

A spiritual practitioner may remember previous illuminating moments and dream of future exotic situations, replete with fully enlightened teachers and blissful insights, but in fact, practice occurs now. The person in front of our nose at this moment represents all sentient beings to us. If we’re going to work for the benefit of all sentient beings, we have to start with this one, this ordinary person in our everyday life. Opening our hearts to whomever is before us requires discipline and effort. Connecting with the person in front of us necessitates being fully present, not off in the past or the future.

Dharma practice means dealing with what is happening in our mind at this moment. Instead of dreaming of conquering future attachment, let’s deal with the craving we have right now. Rather than drown in fears of the future, let’s be aware of the fear occurring right now and investigate it.

~Thubten Chodron
(except from thubtenchodron.org/2011/06/spinning-stories)

 

Harmonious Speech

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

Text from the website “The Buddha’s Advice to Laypeople” by Lynn J. Kelly

A second category of Right Speech (after truthfulness) is harmonious speech, or refraining from saying things with the intention of dividing people or groups from each other. It is a challenging moment in history, in many places, to hold to this principle. Our public discourse seems to have descended to a level where hardly anything can be said without someone objecting.

Behind this trend is an increasing strain of “us vs. them” thinking, writing, and talking. It is human nature to prefer “our own” people to those who seem different, whether by dint of language, class, education, nationality, color, ethnicity, age, gender, political position, etc. The boundaries between groups are variable (not fixed), and in any given moment we can create or destroy categories in our own mind. In some situations a particular “us-them” divide arises and in other situations it dissipates. When others express strong opinions, sometimes we may be infected with a divisive mind-set. Likewise, we may feel inspired when we witness harmonious speech.

Extra-terrestrial invasion was a theme of 20th century science fiction, in some cases specifically in order to create an “us” out of world-wide humanity. It seems as if we only pull together if there is an outside threat of some sort, whether from a natural disaster or other causes. But we don’t need an enemy, real or imagined, to consider ourselves “us” with every living being. We have the option of remembering that we are all in the same situation with respect to old age, sickness, and death. We are all subject to the vagaries of weather, bad luck, and the random nature of our world. We are all trapped together in saṃsāra.

Saṃsāra: The word literally means “wandering through, flowing on”, in the sense of “aimless and directionless wandering”. The concept of saṃsāra is closely associated with the belief that the person continues to be born and reborn in various realms and forms [Wikipedia]. This is our condition, wandering aimlessly in search of comfort and fleeing discomfort, never reaching any resting place except temporarily. 

It’s our actions and words that make our world, not how we feel about a particular person or group of people. In the end, only kind intentions and the words and actions that come from them are beneficial.

So when we are tempted to righteous indignation, to denigrating or dismissing others, we would do well to pause and consider: How would words spoken in anger, even (or especially) righteous anger, be received? Would they bring about healing or hurting? Would they persuade others to our position or harden their opposition? Are we able to bring enough awareness to our speech to avoid divisiveness?

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The point of equilibrium

Excerpt from “Finding the Center” in chapter 2 of “Untangling Self” by Andrew Olendzki:

At some point all this tranquility devolves into sleepiness, laziness, or a sluggishness of mind where it seems a struggle just to remain conscious. This too is natural, and it does not mean you are doing anything wrong. Having established these two end points on a continuum, practice involves moving back and forth between them until one finds the point of equilibrium. You can get a sense when the mind is too active, at which point you let go of your attachment to the stimulant du jour and allow the mind to rest. And when you feel it getting drowsy, it is time to sit up straighter, take a deeper breath, and give yourself a little mental kick into wakefulness. Eventually, becoming familiar with both ends of this specturm, you will find the midpoint where the mind is simultaneously tranquil and alert.

Moving perpendicularly, we then notice that the mind is drawn habitually toward those objects of experience it finds gratifying. This need not be full-on lust or the irresistible drive of addiction; more often it is a gentle inclination toward what we like. The senses revel in sensation, the mind delights in momentum, and we are usually “leaning in” to the next moment and faintly grasping after the next experience. Notice this, and softly back away from it. Continue reading The point of equilibrium

Recognizing awareness

Now, the word ‘ignorance’ as used in Pali means ‘not knowing the Four Noble Truths with their three aspects and twelve insights’ (that is the formula of the Four Noble Truths). And the path is in terms of being eightfold (the Eightfold Path). But the Eightfold Path is really just awareness. Awareness is the path, and the eight parts are more or less positions for reflection rather than actual steps on an actual path. It is not a matter of taking this whole conception of a path too literally, thinking that one step leads to the next ― first you do this and then you do that.

Taken in personal terms, you might start wondering, ‘Do I have right view? Is my speech really right speech all the time?’ And then maybe thinking, ‘Oh, I’m not on the path! I said something the other day I shouldn’t have said.’ If you start thinking about yourself in that way, you just get confused. My advice is not to make a problem of yourself. Give up making a problem about yourself, or how good or bad you are, or what you should or shouldn’t be. Learn to trust in your awareness more, and affirm that; recognize it and consciously think, ‘This is the awareness ― listening ― relaxed attention.’ Then you will feel the connection. It is a natural state that sustains itself. It isn’t up to you to create it. It isn’t dependent on conditions to support it. It is here and now whatever is happening.

Every moment we recognize awareness ― and really trust and learn to appreciate it ― joy comes, compassion comes, and love. But it isn’t personal; it isn’t based on liking, preferences, or kammic attachments. The dhamma is not the destruction of conditioned phenomena, but the container of it. All possibilities of conditioned phenomena arise and cease in the dhamma; and there is nothing that can bind us once we see that, because the reality of the dhamma is seen rather than the forms that arise and cease. Mindfulness reflections are skilful means the Buddha developed for investigating experience, for breaking down the illusions we hold, for breaking through the ignorance we grasp at, for freeing ourselves from form, the limited and the unsatisfactory.

Rather than teaching too many techniques now, or giving too much structure, I prefer to encourage people just to trust themselves with mindfulness and awareness. Often meditation is taught with this sense that one has to get something or get rid of something. But that only increases the existing idea of ‘I am somebody who has to become something that I am not, and has to get rid of my bad traits, my faults, my defilements.’ If we never see through that, it will be a hopeless task. The best we will ever do under those circumstances is maybe modify our habit-tendencies, make ourselves nicer people and be happier in the world ― and that isn’t to be despised, either ― but the point of the Buddha’s teaching is liberation.

~ Ajahn Sumedho
Read more articles by Ajahn Sumedho

DHAMMA TALK: Ajahn Sumedho on mindfulness and meditation

https://soundcloud.com/douglaseye/ajahn-sumedho-on-mindfulness-and-meditation

If the Soundcloud player does not show, click here

HERE IS A PORTION of a talk given by Ven. Ajahn Sumedho on a recent visit to Washington, D.C., his first trip ever in his long life. Ajahn Sumedho talks on mindfulness and meditation. The talk was given July 1, 2017,  and was  co-sponsored by the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, D.C., and the Thai Embassy. Ajahn Sumedho is the senior Western representative of the Thai forest tradition of Theravada Buddhism.

FOR MORE TALKS by Ajahn Sumedho, click here.

Bhante Jayasara talk on Mindfulness

DhammaTalk

Bhante Jayasara, a Theravadan monk from the Bhavana Society in High View, W.Va., gives a talk on mindfulness in daily living at Unity of Kanawha Valley in Charleston, W.Va., on May 26, 2017, as part of a visit sponsored by themeditationcircle.com and the PeaceTree Center for Wellness (www.peacetreecenter.com). For more on the Bhavana Society, visit bhavanasociety.org. For more on Bhante J, visit bhikkhujayasara.wordpress.com/author/bhi…hujayasara

Confidence building

Readings

Have faith in the Buddha’s path to happiness that so many people have followed to enlightenment. Faith, in Buddhist terms, means confidence–confidence based on what you have seen so far, and confidence in what you can project to be true based on what you have seen. For example, you have personally observed that whenever you were full of negative mental states, you suffered. You recall that whenever you were full of positive states of mind, you felt happy. When all these states changed you saw their impermanence. These are facts. You can have confidence in this. This kind of confidence keeps you on course until a deep realization of truth leaves no more room for doubt.

~Bhante Gunaratana
from “Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness” pp. 154-155 (Wisdom Publications)

Peacetree Meditation Circle now meets 11 a.m. each Saturday

Places to Meditate

The PeaceTree Meditation Circle takes place 11 a.m. Saturdays

Starting this week, the PeaceTree Center in Huntington, W.Va., has teamed up with the Meditation Circle of Charleston WV to offer weekly meditation gatherings form 11 a.m. to noon every Saturday, at the center at 5930 Mahood Dr. The center is about 5 to 10 minutes west of the Huntington Mall just off East Pea Ridge Drive.

We meet starting 11 a.m., every Saturday with sitting and standing meditation, followed by a metta (loving-friendliness) meditation , Dhamma quotes and brief discussion. Beginners are welcome and basic instruction is offered in breath-centered Buddhist meditation inspired by the Theravada Buddhist tradition. All are welcome and you need not be a Buddhist to enjoy the benefits of Buddhist mindfulness and meditation practice.

Come join the PeaceTree Meditation Circle.

QUOTE/UNQUOTE

“The mind captivated by a state of craving has no clue as to what pain and pleasure really are. When we hanker after objects, do we experience peace and bliss? Are we in control? Do we feel at ease? Or do we feel restless? Stressed and worried? Insecure and desperate? The slippery thing about attachment is that, in our bewilderment, we can’t tell the difference between pleasure and pain, love and desire, happiness and sorrow. The craving mind can mistake anything for pleasure—even pain! It’s like an addiction.”

~Dzigar Kongtrül
from “Light Comes Through:
Buddhist Teachings on Awakening to Our Natural Intelligence”

Ordinary attention is not enough

Quote/Unquote

“We may like to believe that all we have to do to progress on the Buddha’s path is pay attention. Paying attention certainly sounds easier than making strong effort. But the hard truth is that simple, ordinary attention is not enough. We must learn to pay mindful attention–both when we are engaging in meditation or other spiritual practice and when we are going about the activities of our everyday lives. The Buddha knew that unless we make the mindful effort to eliminate negative states of mind and cultivate positive ones in every aspect of our lives, our minds will never settle down enough to allow us progress.

About now you might be thinking, “I knew there was a catch! This sounds like a lot of work.” Of course, you’d be right. It’s certainly easier to bury our negative qualities deep in the unconscious mind than to let them go. Greed, anger, hatred, sloppiness, arrogance, snobbishness, spitefulness, vindictiveness, and fear may have become our familiar everyday habits. We’d rather not make the effort to give them up. Yet, at the same time, we want to be happy and to move toward our spiritual goals.

Skillful Effort is the stick-to-it quality that makes the whole path possible. It is the gumption to say, “These unwholesome habits of thought and behavior must go, now!” and the wisdom to see that only by cultivating positive and wholesome ways of thinking, acting, and speaking can we hope to achieve happiness.”

~Bhante Gunaratana
from “Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness” pp. 150-151
(Wisdom Publications)

Steps along the way

Quote/Unquote

“When we have the opportunity to sit quietly and watch ourselves, new insights about ourselves may arise. We are the prototype of impermanence. But when our mind veers toward the past and starts rehashing old movies, it’s time to turn it off. The past cannot be changed. The person who experienced the past, no longer exists, is only a fantasy now. When the mind strolls to the future, imagining how we would like it to be, we can let go by remembering the future has no reality either. When it happens, it can only be the present, and the person planning the future is not the same one, who will experience it. If we stay in this moment, here and now, during meditation, we can use that same skill in daily life.

“When we handle each moment with mindfulness and clear comprehension, everything functions well, nothing goes amiss, our mind is content and inner peace can arise. Keeping our attention focused on each step on the way will eventually bring us to the summit.”

~Ayya Khema

from “Steps On the Way”

 

 

Our safety net

image

“All of us from time to time encounter people who ‘push our buttons.’ Without Mindfulness, we respond automatically with anger or resentment. With Mindfulness, we can watch how our mind responds to certain words and actions. Just as you do on the cushion, you can watch the arising of attachment and aversion. Mindfulness is like a safety net that cushions you against unwholesome action. Mindfulness gives you time. Time gives you choices. Choices, skillfully made, lead to freedom. You don’t have to be swept away by your feelings. You can respond with wisdom and kindness rather than habit and reactivity.”

 

Gunaratana, Henepola.   Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English: An Introductory Guide to Deeper States of Meditation. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2009. Pg. 35