2. The Three Refuges
3. The Four Noble Truths
The Eightfold Path:
4. Right Understanding
5. Right Intent
6. Right Speech
7. Right Livelihood
8. Right Effort
Something terrible has happened!
It’s the wire – it just managed to snap one day in class, spilling beads onto the floor of one of the halls in the AMNH. I managed to retrieve all of them except one garnet bead – the opening bead on the bracelet, and its absence makes me sad. I have beads from other broken jewellery, though, and I think I can make do. Meanwhile, I’m putting off the task of finding a place in New York that will offer the service of replacing the wire for me. It will come.
So on to Right Mindfulness. Which is the reason I started down this Path to start with. My goal, and therefore, the hardest possible challenge for me, is the cultivation of a present, perceptive open mind that sees what is really going on.
My brain in its ‘natural’ state is the direct opposite of this. I tell myself stories. I make up voices in my head and I listen to them. I have a flare for the clichéd and the dramatic; I’ve done it as far back as I remember. The biggest problems in my life come from conversations I have in my head with made up versions of people I know in real life. All of you exist in there, you know. And the version in my head doesn’t always correspond very well with the version that exists in the “Objective World.” (Let alone the version of you that exists in your head).
My brain tells me stories all the time. Someone didn’t ping me on IM? Clearly they hate me! I make a mistake at work? I’m a failure at everything! Ovulation pains? DYING OF OVARY. Thoughts appear in my brain and I seize them, jump on them, and steer them in exciting and dramatic directions. Then I’m pretty much screwed for the duration of that distraction, both in terms of getting things done, and in the emotional state that comes with it.
I have ADHD and acute anxiety. Right Mindfulness is the antithesis of these.
Mindfulness can be compared to awareness or wakefulness; to paying attention. Which is where I approached the Path from to start with; from a person who struggles with attention and needed practice in it.
So the fact that I haven’t meditated in months is bad for my mental health. I not only know this, I can see it.
Meditation is the way by which Right Mindfulness is practised. The ultimate goal is continual mindfulness: an awareness that I carry with me throughout the day, but meditation is the space in which to dedicate myself to this practice. If eating healthy and maintain an active lifestyle is the goal for a healthy body, then meditation is the mental equivalent of running two miles a day. If clearing up after yourself is how you keep a tidy, unfucked habitat, then mediation is the mental equivalent of getting down and sorting out that pile of dirty laundry.
Trouble is, that just as with physical health and living space, I let good habits slip when I’m in a certain mental space. And that’s the mental space in which I need meditation all the more.
So when I’m taking care of myself, this is a daily occurrence for twenty minutes at a time. I am not, currently, taking very good care of myself. And, just as physical and mental wellbeing are tied together, so are environmental and mental wellbeing. I have a space in my room that is in theory dedicated to being a meditation space. It’s telling that I had to spend twenty minutes today clearing up the area so I could get at it.
But there I have it; a space dedicated to the act of meditation; a physical sanctuary to go to. I used to meditate on my bed, but this is not generally recommended as a bed is a place for sleeping, and meditation for me is the act of waking up, of clearing one’s mind so I can live the day. Therefore, I try to meditate as early in the day as possible, to clean up my mind before the debris of the day accumulates on it. I’m sometimes tempted to try ten minutes at night to clear up the day at the end, but I find reading does that quite well, these days.
I’ve been fortunate in my meditation practice, in that the broadcast meditation classes offered by zencast.org are very, very good. I started practice by listening to a session of the beginner’s class every week, and practising in the days between; starting with ten minutes, which was hard enough, then working my way up to twenty. Ideally I’d like half an hour, but I’m not at that yet.
Meditation is work. Sometimes the best I can do is to treat my mind like a rodeo bull; to sit and ride out the ups and downs and waves of my mind until the time is up. Sometimes I can really practice mindfulness and be aware of my situation. Sometimes I just sit and cry. But the more I meditate – the more I practise mindfulness, the more my mind wakes up and I find it easy to stay present.
Mindfulness in Daily Living
Meditation may be the “concentrated” practice of mindfulness to start a day, but unless mindfulness is practised throughout the day, I may as well run two miles a day then sit on my arse eating ice cream. (I do do that, but shush.). Right Mindfulness is the continued awareness throughout daily living that covers four aspects:
- mindfulness of the body
- mindfulness of feelings and sensations
- mindfulness of the state of mind
- mindfulness of thoughts and mental objects.
I frequently zone out and find myself unaware of what I’m doing or how I’m feeling. That feeling of “huh, turns out I’m cold.” Right Mindfulness is the opposite of this: the knowledge at all times of where I am, what I’m doing and how I’m feeling.
Mindfulness comes from being aware of sensations, of watching and understanding what brings them to arise, and what keeps them there. Without Right Mindfulness, I cannot practise Right Effort, because unless I know what the arising of thoughts, feelings and states of mind are like, I cannot hope to be able to control them.
Understanding my mental and physical processes is the most important step in being able to exert the effort needed for self control. First instincts may be to self condemn or force myself out of a state. To seek aversion, diversion of distraction, but only when I understand my mental state can I improve them.
With understanding, of course, comes compassion. This is why self deprecation doesn’t work as an effective effort.
So when I find myself with a thought I’d rather not be thinking, I usually just label it. “Thought,” I’d say. Or “Story.” Or “anxiety.” Or “defensiveness.” When I find myself caught up in stories, I think “Well, I’ve been telling myself a story.” And let it go, gently. Let it fade off into the ether of thoughts without pushing or clinging to it too hard. And I bring myelf back to the moment. To the sensation of my breath coming in, and out. To the actual sensation of feeling sad. Or to the feeling of the pavement under my feet, the chair under my lap. To now.
And try to pay attention to the time I leave that moment.
Right Mindfulness Links
Zencast – Introduction to Meditation
Next: Right Concentration
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