What Is Mindfulness?

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  • Published : November 27, 2012
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Sometimes I think the translation of the word "mindfulness" is incorrect in two ways. Right Mindfulness is a step of the Eightfold Path and is the centerpoint of Buddhist practice. First, it's not a good translation because "mindfulness" is kind of an insipid word. "Be mindful" -- what does that mean? It doesn't have the kind of inspiring quality of spaciousness, courage, or living fully. Perhaps if you pronounced it differently and said, mindfulness, that would be a better understanding of the word and its power. But a more fundamental difficulty in even talking about mindfulness, whatever that means for us, is that the mind and the heart are the same word in Sanskrit or Pali. So perhaps a better word would be "heartfulness" -- live in a heartful way. Forget about this mind stuff all together. You could do without a lot of it, if you haven't noticed. The Buddha very often said that mindfulness was the heart or the essence of his practice -- to be heedful or aware -- that was the road to liberation and to the deathless, to freedom from even birth and death; that is, freedom from being caught in the cyclic nature of things, stepping outside the cycle of things. What does "mindfulness" mean to us sitting here as a group. We sat for an hour this evening or a little bit less, but for those of you who have attended regularly, we've been sitting here for a year doing something supposedly related to paying attention and being mindful. What does it mean? What are the qualities of it, what are we doing here? We sit, we pay attention to the breath, or our body sensations, or the sounds, or the people walking by, or the various thoughts and images in our mind. To be mindful first means simply to come into the present -- to listen with our senses, with our heart, with our physical body, with our ears, with our eyes, to what is actually here in the present; the body, the heart and the mind. It's that thing I've spoken of many times before, the sign from the casino in Las Vegas, "You must be present to win." In Las Vegas, in therapy, in meditation, it's all the same thing. In order to awaken or to use our life in a skillful way, the first task is to get here, to start to live in the present moment, which means not living so much in our fantasies, in the future, not living so much in the past, in our images and memories, and reliving things that are gone already. The first is learning to be present, which itself is a very wonderful thing, because"here" and "now" and "in the present" are the only places that we can appreciate life to begin with. Otherwise, it's kind of second-hand, what happened a few years ago -- that's a nice memory -- or what we fantasize about. Where can you really appreciate this life we're given? Only in the present. Also, there is something else which interests a lot of people and can only be found in the present, and that is love. If you want to love a person or you want to be loved -- some of you perhaps know anyway, right? -- where does love take place? Or "when" is a better question. Again, it's a nice memory, "Gee, I was in love once or twice" -- or more in some of your cases. It was very nice. It evokes a nice thing to remember it. Or it's in the future, "Oh, if only I could meet that right wonderful person," or "this person that I live with," or "this family," or whatever, "if they would change so they would become right, then I could fall in love all over again with them or be happy with them." The only place that you can really love a person or be loved is in the present. No other possibility for it. All the rest is fantasy. Also in the present comes the possibility of touching our intuition, of creativity, of clarity; all kinds of things. So the first aspect of awareness is simply learning in some way to live more fully here in our present reality. If you learn nothing else from meditation practice than that, you get your money's worth -- especially since there's no charge. Secondly, mindfulness or...
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