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Lions Roar : September 2016
I TEACH MINDFULNESS as both a valuable ego skill for daily life and as an integral part of the Buddha’s eightfold path. I don’t think of it as either/or. I can’t imagine any wholesome activity that wouldn’t be enhanced by mindfulness. As U Sivali, a Sri Lankan monk, said to me in a practice interview soon after I began meditating, “Every single moment of mindfulness erases a moment of unconscious habit.” At the same time, I love teaching mindfulness as the central practice (between effort and concentration) of the Buddha’s eightfold path to free the mind from all its habits of suffering. The eightfold path begins with ethics practices— wise action, wise speech, and wise livelihood—that are designed to inhibit the arising of impulses that lead to behavior that causes suffering if they remain unconscious. The path ends with wise understand- ing and wise intention—the awareness of the fundamental truths that everyone suffers, and that kindness is a redemptive response. The three middle components of the path—wise effort, wise mindfulness, and wise concentration—support and depend on each other. Let’s imagine it this way: mindfulness, the balanced, nonreactive recognition of moments of experience as they arise, is able to evaluate responses. Wise effort is the habit of choosing, at every notable juncture, what the texts refer to as wholesome responses. Think of concentration as ballast for the mind, a stead- BEFORE I EVER HEARD the word “mindfulness,” I had already been struggling with meditation for a while—squirm- ing, itching, twitching, griping, always wondering why I contin- ued to do something that caused such grief. My late Buddhist teacher, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, talked about meditation as giving a cow—our restless mind—a spacious pasture to graze in. He contrasted this with trying to achieve a restful state, which is a setup. That approach treats meditation as a war with the restless mind and promotes sup- pressing thoughts and emotions. In his teachings on meditation, Trungpa Rinpoche coupled the one-pointed focus of mindfulness with the spacious, panoramic quality of awareness. Mindfulness sees the flower precisely and awareness takes in the surrounding trees, underbrush, sun, and sky. Mindfulness and awareness do not compete. When we sit in meditation, we follow our breath precisely and simultaneously allow ourselves to experience everything happening in our body, mind, and the surrounding environment. When we’re dealing with mundane things, it’s hard enough to grapple with what semanticists call category problems (an NBA playoff and hopscotch are both called games, but the dif- ferences outweigh the similarities). When we’re talking about qualities of mind and practices to cultivate them, it’s incredibly easy to get tied in knots. Things got messy for mindfulness once Thich Nhat Hanh and Jon Kabat-Zinn popularized the term. Some Buddhists lament this development, feeling the meaning has been weakened and cheapened. But let’s face it, words expand their meanings some- times. Good luck trying to put that genie back in the bottle. Mindfulness now has several meanings for a broader public. It refers to the simple practice of meditation that focuses on an anchor such as the breath. More important, it refers to a way of being that comes naturally (but can be cultivated through the practice of meditation) and that also encompasses qualities such iness that protects it from being overwhelmed by experience. The eightfold path is the conclusion of the Buddha’s four noble truths, the summary of his liberating understanding. Life experience is challenging, he explained, because of its very nature of temporality. Circumstances keep changing, and human beings are vulnerable to loss and disappointment. Suffering, he taught, is the imperative in the mind that things be different from how they are. The end of suffering, he promised, the absence of that imperative, is possible. The eightfold path is his formula for cultivating a mind that is able, through wisdom and kindness, not to insist that things be different than they are. In the opening statement of the Satipatthana Sutta, the Buddha’s teaching on the four foundations of mindfulness, he says, “ This is the direct path for the purification of beings, for the surmounting of sorrow and of lamentation, for the disappearance of pain and grief, for the attainment of the true way, for the attainment of nirvana.” Although I cannot imagine how the complete disappearance of pain and grief would feel, I am reinspired in my mindfulness practice every time I hear these words. ♦ SYLVIA BOORSTEIN is a psychologist and a leading teacher of Insight Meditation. Her bestselling books include Pay Attention, for Goodness’ Sake and Happiness Is An Inside Job. It’s All Good SYLVIA BOORSTEIN celebrates mindfulness as both the key to Buddhist practice and beneficial to every aspect of human life. Beyond Words Whether you look at mindfulness from a Buddhist or secular perspective, says BARRY BOYCE, your actual experience of it will transcend concepts. LION’S ROAR | SEPTEMBER 2016 43