Mindfulness isn’t trendy

Posted by on Mar 24, 2014 in Buddhism | 5 Comments
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I was listening to a podcast the other day. I quite enjoyed it. Except that one of the presenters said that mindfulness is ‘quite trendy now’.

I had a little shudder at that, even though it’s sort of true.

Mindfulness – endorsed by your favourite celebrity

You hear that people are ‘into’ mindfulness. Even celebrities!

People go on courses and stuff. In between learning to cook Korean food and getting fit doing zumba.

You can read about it in The Guardian.

It’s something people add onto the list of things they’ve done. The activities that make them interesting and give them a full range of stories to tell at dinner parties.

“Oh yeah, I used to do mindfulness, but now I’m into making broaches and selling them on Etsy.”

Mindfulness is a sword

In another absolutely fundamental sense though, mindfulness isn’t trendy at all.

Mindfulness isn’t an idea. It isn’t a hobby. It isn’t even a technique.

Mindfulness is a sword. It cuts right to the heart of things. It slices off all the nonsense you’ve been trying to stick onto yourself for years in an attempt to look interesting to others.

Most people aren’t up for this. Getting naked in public isn’t their cup of tea.

Che Guevara t-shirts

Calling mindfulness trendy is like calling revolution trendy. People wearing Che Guevara t-shirts around Shoreditch doesn’t make revolution trendy.

Now, you might not be a revolutionary. Most people aren’t. And that’s fine.

But if you’re that way inclined, don’t let the current polite chatter about ‘mindfulness’ dilute the urgency for you.

In the Satipatthana Sutta, the Buddha details four ‘foundations’ of mindfulness.

  1. Mindfulness of the body
  2. Mindfulness of the feelings
  3. Mindfulness of mind
  4. Mindfulness of ‘mental objects’

This practice is called the ‘direct path to realisation’. It’s not something you do for a bit while you’re waiting for the next fad to come along.

When you have a regular mindfulness practice (a proper one), you experience everything differently. You’re in it. And until you have this experience, you have no idea what it is.

It’s like me trying to describe ‘red’ to a dog. (Dogs apparently only see in black and white – at least that’s what the dogs told the scientists. They also don’t understand human sentences.)

When you take that experience yet further, it can be used to perceive the way things operate. The way YOU operate. This creates opportunities for dramatic insights into the nature of reality.

Most people won’t take it that far. Why should they?

For these people, mindfulness will be trendy for a while and then, pretty soon, it will be old hat. Primal screaming will be all the rage. Bouncing up and down while chanting Hare Krishna. Or Manchester United.

If dramatic insights into the nature of reality is not what you’re after, it’s certainly possible to use mindfulness meditation to relax a bit and then chat about it down the pub.

But if you’re after something more, commit yourself and let the chatter fade away. Follow the silence instead.

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5 Comments

  1. JMS
    March 26, 2014

    Great post. Mindfulness as a trend is a sad state of affairs. Trends come and go. The Satipattana sutta is a tried and true method of spiritual development and has been so for over 2,500 years.

    Perhaps a large number of people with the right disposition will find access to the dharma through the mindfulness craze.

    I suggest than anyone interested in mindfulness read Heart of Buddhist Meditation and perhaps find a teacher. Of course read the Discourses of the Buddha. You will be so surprised at what you will find in the Discourses if you area only reading books about mindfulness.

    Mindfulness in and of itself is only one method of many the Buddha taught. It is called the ‘dry-inisight’ method because it does not require or involve the ‘moisture’ of serenity meditation. Combining serenity meditation with mindfulness yields a super powerful state of mindfulness. I think here, ‘insight’ is a better term than mindfulness.

    Mindfulness simply means being attune to the present moment. The famous example is washing dishes to wash dishes. While washing the dishes ones concentrates solely on cleaning the dishes and there is no extraneous chatter or discursive thinking occurring in the mind. Your just mindfully washing dishes, your not enlightened.

    Then there is using serenity meditation to calm and quieten the mind and use mindfulness to observe the mind. At this point you can access depths of realization not attainable to the every day thinking, chattering, distracted by thought, mind. When you can observe your own mind, discursive thinking dissipates and what remains is the beginning of a wonderful journey of contemplation of dhammas (ideas or truths) like impermanence, death, the aggregates of self, and after enough practice, realization of dependent origination and the Four Noble Truths. Realization is not a intellectual understanding but a penetrating insight that will change how you see the world and your place in it.

    The Four Foundations of Mindfulness or Satipattana method is a very powerful yet remarkably easy method to practice. It can bring about jhana (a ‘scary’ word for different states of serenity meditation) or it can be a powerful method of ‘dry-inisght’ to gain realization of different aggregates of your self and how the interact. Body contemplation, teasing apart feelings from thoughts about feelings, and how this all leads to higher dhammas (ideas & truths) unattainable through the process of discursive/conventional thought. Buddha said Satipattana was the direct path to realization. Yet, it is so easy to learn, it is easy to water down this practice to simple mindfulness–just being in the present moment. Being in the present moment during meditation and ultimately during your daily routine is no easy task. Practices like Satipattana make such states attainable.

    I always say what one of my teachers said. Make your mind stainless for meditation. My teacher said this because the Buddha taught this. Our minds are like garbage heaps full of all kinds of attachments, craving, unwholesome thoughts, and probably too much HBO, media, and whatever work/family issues we have. Now it is true that through our meditation practice we will learn to lesson this load. However, it is essential from the beginning to at least be aware of this garbage in our minds and release it.

    Satipattana is not only a sitting practice but also a practice we do in our daily routine. Like the washing dishes example. Instead of worrying about dinner and what your boss said, we mindfully walk, mindfully reach for things and well, basically try to employ mindfulness in all of our actions of body, speech and mind. This is the practice of true mindfulness. We can’t be this mindful at all times during our routine but practice as you can and then the mind has a chance to clear away some of the garbage. An excellent way to start training yourself to be mindfully aware is to start in the morning upon awakening. Practice like: I am awake. I am stepping out of bed, I am reaching for the toothbrush etc..This is not turning yourself into a zombie. Rather it’s a effective practice for not chasing our discursive thoughts down the rabbit hole. For most of us, our thoughts control us and master us. We are controlled by our cravings and attachments and thinking the silliest things. As the Buddha said, let you be the master of your mind and do not let your mind be the master of you.

    One you get rid of some of that Garbage that clutters your mind a whole new level of practice opens up. Sure some of it, you need to know, facts and figures for work, your partners anniversary. However, the thoughts are not the problem. Getting control of the thoughts is the problem. That is what mindfulness is for and using practices such as Satipattana you can control the thoughts, employ concentration without distraction and more effectively deal with situations without losing control to emotions such as anger or lust. That is the mundane power of mindfulness. Satipattana practice can get you there.

    This is the path. This path will reveal itself further and start to open up like a lotus flower. Here is the mind observing the mind, that is duellistic. Eventually the practice will drop down into the heart and the observer becomes one with the practice. This is unexplainable. Though many have tried. Usually doing so just leads you further down the rabbit hole of delusion. So just experience it to know. You will know. Now the battle with the self begins. A lot of the garbage is gone and the mind is still, somewhat. Now you have to deal with what the Buddha called the hindrances of meditation. Your Satipattana practice will guide you through this and true realizations about reality; what is actual; the opposite of what the discursive chattering mind makes up about *your* reality, and *me*, and *mine*, will transform your being.

    I love to meditate and teach meditation. There are some good books and a few good teachers. If you buy a book on mindfulness try Heart of Buddhist Meditation. Satipattana: The Direct Path to Realization is a great book too if your in tune to the suttas. By suttas I mean the Discourses of the Buddha. Regardless of your tradition, religion, or whatever, the discourses are not for intellectual thought or religious dogma. They are not law. They are for opening the mind and gaining insight.

    Practice three times every hour: ask yourself where you mind is at and how do you feel.

    jms

    Reply
  2. JMS
    March 26, 2014

    Great post. Mindfulness as a trend is a sad state of affairs. Trends come and go. The Satipattana sutta is a tried and true method of spiritual development and has been so for over 2,500 years.

    Perhaps a large number of people with the right disposition will find access to the dharma through the mindfulness craze.

    I suggest than anyone interested in mindfulness read Heart of Buddhist Meditation and perhaps find a teacher. Of course read the Discourses of the Buddha. You will be so surprised at what you will find in the Discourses if you area only reading books about mindfulness.

    Mindfulness in and of itself is only one method of many the Buddha taught. It is called the ‘dry-inisight’ method because it does not require or involve the ‘moisture’ of serenity meditation. Combining serenity meditation with mindfulness yields a super powerful state of mindfulness. I think here, ‘insight’ is a better term than mindfulness.

    Mindfulness simply means being attune to the present moment. The famous example is washing dishes to wash dishes. While washing the dishes ones concentrates solely on cleaning the dishes and there is no extraneous chatter or discursive thinking occurring in the mind. Your just mindfully washing dishes, your not enlightened.

    Then there is using serenity meditation to calm and quieten the mind and use mindfulness to observe the mind. At this point you can access depths of realization not attainable to the every day thinking, chattering, distracted by thought, mind. When you can observe your own mind discursive thinking dissipates and what remains is the beginning of a wonderful journey of contemplation of dhammas (ideas or truths) like impermanence, death, the aggregates of self, and after enough practice, realization of dependent origination and the Four Noble Truths. Realization is not a intellectual understanding but a penetrating insight that will change how you see the world and your place in it.

    The Four Foundations of Mindfulness or Satipattana method is a very powerful yet remarkably easy method to practice. It can bring about jhana (a ‘scary’ word for different states of serenity meditation) or it can be a powerful method of ‘dry-inisght’ to gain realization of different aggregates of your self and how the interact. Body contemplation, teasing apart feelings from thoughts about feelings, and how this all leads to higher dhammas (ideas & truths) unattainable through the process of discursive/conventional thought. Buddha said Satipattana was the direct path to realization. Yet, it is so easy to learn it is easy to water down this practice to simple mindfulness–just being in the present moment. Being in the present moment during meditation and ultimately during your daily routine is no easy task. Practices like Satipattana make such states attainable.

    I always say what one of my teachers said. Make your mind stainless for meditation. My teacher said this because the Buddha taught this. Our minds are like garbage heaps full of all kinds of attachments, craving, unwholesome thoughts, and probably too much HBO, media, and whatever work/family issues we have. Now it is true that through our meditation practice we will learn to lesson this load. However, it is essential from the beginning to at least be aware of this garbage in our minds and release it. Satipattana is not only a sitting practice but also a practice we do in our daily routine. Like the washing dishes example. Instead of worrying about dinner and what your boss said, we mindfully walk, mindfully reach for things and well, basically try to employ mindfulness in all of our actions of body, speech and mind. This is the practice of true mindfulness. We can’t be this mindful at all times during our routine but practice as you can and then mind has a chance to clear away some of the garbage. An excellent way to start training yourself to be mindfully aware is to start in the morning upon awakening. Practice like: I am awake. I am stepping out of bed, I am reaching for the toothbrush etc..This is not turning yourself into a zombie. Rather it’s a effective practice for not chasing our discursive thoughts down the rabbit hole. For most of us, our thoughts control us and master us. We are controlled by our cravings and attachments and thinking the silliest things. As the Buddha said, let you be the master of your mind and do not let your mind be the master of you.

    One you get rid of some of that Garbage that clutters your mind a whole new level of practice opens up. Sure some of it, you need to know, facts and figures for work, your partners anniversary. However, the thoughts are not the problem. Getting control of the thoughts is the problem. That is what mindfulness is for and using practices such as Satipattana you can control the thoughts, employ concentration without distraction and more effectively deal with situations without losing control to emotions such as anger or lust. That is the mundane power of mindfulness. Satipattana practice can get you there.

    This is the path. This path will reveal itself further and start to open up like a lotus flower. Here is the mind observing the mind, that is duellistic. Eventually the practice will drop down into the heart and the observer becomes one with the practice. This is unexplainable. Though many have tried. Usually doing so just leads you further down the rabbit hole of delusion. So just experience it too know. You will know. Now the battle with the self begins. A lot of the garbage is gone and the mind is still, somewhat. Now you have to deal with what the Buddha called the hindrances of meditation. Your Satipattana practice will guide you through this and true realizations about reality; what is actual; the opposite of what the discursive chattering mind makes up about *your* reality and *me* and *mine* will transform your being.

    I love to meditate and teach meditation. There are some good books and a few good teachers. If you buy a book on mindfulness try Heart of Buddhist Meditation. Satipattana: The Direct Path to Realization is a great book too if your in tune to the suttas. By suttas I mean the Discourses of the Buddha. Regardless of your tradition, religion, or whatever, the discourses are not for intellectual thought or religion dogma. They are not law. They are for opening the mind and gaining insight.

    Practice three times every hour: ask yourself where you mind is at and how do you feel.

    Reply
    • mybuddhistlife
      March 27, 2014

      Thanks for the comment JMS – you obviously put some work into that!

      Reply
  3. mybuddhistlife
    March 27, 2014

    I am mindful of the need to explain that outrage wasn’t quite the emotion I experienced. ‘A mild sense of aversion’ would be more accurate ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I would like to try and mindfully rob a bank. Please ask Ajahn Sumedho to drive my getaway car. I imagine having him as part of my crew would significantly increase my chances of getting away with it.

    But, to respond a little less flippantly, you’re absolutely right. The trouble with divorcing mindfulness from the rest of the Buddhist path is it doesn’t necessarily make your life or the world any better, and in fact could make it a good deal worse. Simply strengthening the mind isn’t enough. You then need to point it in the right direction.

    Sati = ‘mindfulness’ as far as I’m aware. Certainly that’s what’s meant in ‘Satipatthana’. Although apparently it is also the word used for the practice of throwing a widow on the husband’s funeral pyre. So I guess one needs to be careful what ‘sati’ class one has signed up for.

    Reply
    • Mike Baliman
      March 28, 2014

      Oh no not another Buddhist nice guy ๐Ÿ˜› … experience outrage dude! Don’t buy into the “Buddhists listen to Genesis, Simon&Garfunkel and not those noisy and rude punks” school:-D

      Seems to me that if Buddhist Community Leaders [am referencing Citizen
      Khan here (qv)] can’t define what the word means its no wonder the world
      en masse teaches all kind of things under its rubric.

      Sati cant mean mindfulness as that word didnt exist then ๐Ÿ˜› Mindfulness is also a meaningless made-up word in English – and here starts the whole problem. Using LPSumedho’s vocab and JMS point re washing dishes is sati = “the point that excludes” OR “the point that includes” OR both OR something else? [eg http://theravadin.wordpress.com/2009/02/13/mindfulness-is-not-sati/%5D

      Reply

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