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Lions Roar : September 2016
IN HIS FIRST TEACHING at Deer Park, the Buddha praised mindfulness: “The Noble Eightfold Path is nourished by living mindfully.” From the beginning, the path of awakening includes all aspects of our human lives: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and social. The aim is a mindful life. This means that our relationship to our sexuality and our consumerist economic system, our par- enting, and our politics are all part of the path. This approach to living fully is outlined in the eightfold path. “Right mindfulness” is one aspect of this path, alongside right view, right intention, right effort, right meditative engagement, right speech, right livelihood, and right action. The Sanskrit word samyak—often translated as “right” or “perfect”—can also mean “complete.” Engaging mindfulness encourages complete engage- ment with life. Let’s walk through these aspects of the Buddhist spiritual path, returning mindfulness to her rightful place among her seven less famous but equally important sisters and brothers. Right View The central view of the Buddha’s teaching is a middle way, avoiding the extremes of aggressive asceticism (being harsh with ourselves and others) and laissez-faire indulgence (spirit- ual laziness). We approach all our experience with basic friend- liness and respect. In the context of meditation practice, this means gently placing awareness on our bodies and minds in a “not too tight, not too loose” manner. Without this view of fun- damental loving-kindness, there is no mindfulness meditation. Practicing mindfulness as mere mental gymnastics leaves us feeling even more depleted. In a culture where “Just do it” now has the well-worn famili- arity of a mantra, jumping into mindfulness practice without first contemplating the view seems an attractive option. Why study the classic teachings on meditation when the main point is to practice? Isn’t the whole point not to think too much about it? But the Buddha wisely suggested study and contemplation as supports to any practice. Yes, experience is the heart of the mat- ter, but we need first to understand what we are doing, why we are doing it, and how mindfulness relates to the rest of our lives. Right Intention Why are we engaging in mindfulness? Contemplating our inten- tion at the beginning of a session rouses our motivation. Our aim may be calmness or peace, stability or a more compassion- ate heart, or all of the above. The point is that we have already entered the session with some sense of purpose or direction. Take a moment for self-reflection and nonjudgmental self-awareness before rushing on. This gesture of self-respect can gently cut some of the momentum of our accumulated neurotic speed. Acknowledging the motivation we already have can be the first step in an expanding journey. The stress and anxiety we sometimes feel are surely shared by others around us—in our families, our workplaces, our communities. Including a sense of practicing for Mindfulness and the Eightfold Path To understand how to practice mindfulness in daily life, says GAYLON FERGUSON, we have to look at all eight steps of the noble eightfold path. PHOTOS:NAROPAUNIVERSITY/CLAUDIALOPEZ Left and opposite page: Gaylon Ferguson, at Naropa University, sits on the floor with students as he leads the graduate-level interdisciplinary course “Beginnings– Birth & Becoming.”