Everfresh in the Changing

Month: May 2016 Page 1 of 3

Curioius About the Pause

In all the contemplative moves that involve a ‘pause,’ it’s interesting to think about exactly what we are pausing, When we ‘pause’ to allow a space for more experience to show, we pause our conceptualizing, and so, of course, we pause the emotions associated with them. We pause the stories, and the emotions associated with them.

We can pause the emotions, but that is harder; Nevertheless, it can be done; for example, we can pause anger by relocating ourselves, moving away from the situation (leave the room, for instance). Or, we can pause an emotion by bringing attention to the breath. And so on.

The conceptual mind reaches for a known mental-emotional world. It needs to be paused for a fresh feel of the whole situation. But we don’t and can’t pause Being. So, we aren’t pausing and can’t pause the feeling of being. We can ignore it (that’s dissociation), but we can’t pause felt being, because felt knowing is intrinsic to being sentient.

(As a by the way, I predict we will one day realize that a person in a coma has available to them a felt sense of being. This may be similar to, or even related, to the fact that a person in dream sleep can feel their breathing, while not feeling their body.)

Pausing in the Marketplace.

“Focusing is a force for peace because it frees people from being manipulated by external authority, cultural roles, ideologies and the internal oppression of self attacking and shame. This freeing has to do with an ability to pause the on-going situation and create a space in which a felt sense can form.” – Mary Hendricks-Gendlin, Ph.D., Focusing as a Force for Peace: The Revolutionary Pause, Keynote Address to the Fifteenth Focusing International Conference 2003, in Germany

There are many ways in which the ‘pause’ can be invited in. And, the practice of A Year to Live introduces ‘the pause’ into my life. For instance, when I arise first thing in the morning, and recommit myself to treating this particular day as possibly my last. It brings a pause in my egocentricity, a gap in which the body-environment interaction can be felt as the on-going process.

The empowering pause has developed in many ways in the last two decades, in various methods of inquiry and dialogical communication. It’s a word that I see regularly in the secular mindfulness literature; e.g in the magazine Mindful. This is a primary effect of mindulness, to introduce the living gap into our mindstream.

Think of something you learnt, sometime, which at that time helped you go deeper, helped you find some space for difficult situations. No doubt the pause was there. To name just three approaches: Gendlin’s Focusing, as Mary Hendricks-Gendlin says; Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication is empowered by the pause; or, in the mindfulness sphere, there’s Gregory Kramer’s Insight Dialogue. (All these can be seen as part of a wider movement which is developing what Gene Gendlin refers to as the ‘product’ of this age: “inter-human communication.”)

The reason that my life-long inspiration Socrates valued the unhurried life was that it is a life in touch with our deepest reaches; from whence we can examine life.  Socrates valued the examined life, a result of which can be that we step out of the flow of time, and touch the timeless. (Theaetetus 172c– 173b). Now, that is a pause.

The mindful pause is a space which transforms our understanding of ourselves, our relationships, and life itself. Then, we can enter the market place freely; or, like Socrates, enter death freely.

My joy, these days is to dwell on-goingly in the completeness of Being. Being, for me, always brings the pause. Being is all pause. From here, my words, actions, and my thinking, can form more appropriately. Relating to my situation then feels – even when difficult – like it is, after all, only a human situation.

And, when there’s no question to be answered, decision to be made, or whatever, then I can rest in the great (…..) which is the basis of peace.

In Theaetetus Socrates comments: “Well, look at the man who has been knocking about in law courts and such places ever since he was a boy; and compare him with the man brought up in philosophy, in the life of a student. It is surely like comparing the upbringing of a slave with that of a free man. Because the one man always has what you mentioned just now—plenty of time. When he talks, he talks in peace and quiet, and his time is his own. It is so with us now: here we are beginning on our third new discussion; and he can do the same, if he is like us, and prefers the newcomer to the question in hand. It does not matter to such men whether they talk for a day or a year, if only they may hit upon that which is. But the other—the man of the law courts—is always in a hurry when he is talking; he has to speak with one eye on the clock” (Trans. Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, in Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away).

The choices are not so easily made now. (Although, Socrates did pay for it with his life.) So, I admire greatly those people who are trying to transform the marketplace; who attempt to bring the pause into their workplaces – even into the courts themselves. May their activities bear immeasurable fruit.

An Auspicious Day

An Auspicious Day: Bhaddekaratta Sutta

MN 131

Translated by Christopher J. Ash

Translator’s note: The title of this sutta has been translated a number of ways. There’s no argument on its meaning, it seems to me. When in Pāli that’s the case, I imagine that a lost idiom might be at work. On that basis, Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s argument (following Ñāṇamoli Bhikkhu) concerning the title makes sense to me. See: here.

Though the meaning of the title isn’t central to a practical, experiential understanding of the sutta, it does nevertheless reduce the oddness of the title, if you imagine the Nikāya Buddha enjoying some word-play. He might be finding yet another new meaning in the practices or beliefs of the brahmin class. He does that regularly.

This title could, for example, be referring to astrology, but here he turns it into a teaching about defeating death (and time itself) through present-moment awareness. It would make sense, given that he does go on to talk about how we have various desires in respect of ‘time.’ He definitely thought that living in the present, going independently in the world, was a “pleasant abiding,” to be enjoyed “here and now.” It’s best not left for some future time. Thus, every day is an auspicious day.

So, when you hear him say, ‘One who has an Auspicious Day,’ or use the overblown word ‘announce’ in the verse, imagine him enjoying it playfully.

An Auspicious Day: Bhaddekaratta Sutta

I have heard that one time the flourishing one was staying at Sāvatthi, in Jeta’s grove, Anāthapiṇḍika’s monastery, and he invited the assembled mendicants to listen.

“Mendicants!” he said.

“Yes, Sir,” they replied.

“I will now reveal the true meaning of ‘One who has an auspicious day.’ Pay close attention, and I will tell you.”

“Please do,” they said.

Don’t chase after a past, and don’t long for a future.
What has gone is finished with, and the future is not yet come.
Invincible, unmovable, see clearly whatever is present now –
this, right here – and so develop wisdom.
Today, right away, do what needs to be done.
Who knows? Death could know you tomorrow.
There’s certainly no bargaining with Death’s great hordes.
But one who lives ardently, day and night,
Such a one is an auspicious day, the peaceful sage announces.

And, how does one chase after a past, Practitioners? There, desiring, one thinks:

“My body or form was such-and-such in the past.” “I felt such-and-such a way in the past.”  “I had such-and-such a perception in the past.” “I had such-and-such an intention in the past.” Or, “My consciousness was such-and-such in the past.” In this way, Practitioners, one chases after a past.

And, how does one not chase after a past, Practitioners? One doesn’t nurture desire by thinking: “My body or form was such-and-such in the past.” “I felt such-and-such a way in the past.”  “I had such-and-such a perception in the past.” “I had such-and-such an intention in the past.” Or, “My consciousness was such-and-such in the past.” In this way, Practitioners, one doesn’t chase after a past.

“And how, Practitioners, does one long for a future? There, one nurtures delight by thinking: ‘May I have such-and-such a form or body in the future!” “May I feel such-and-such in the future!” “May I perceive such-and-such in the future.” “May I intend such-and-such in the future.” “May I have such-and-such a consciousness in the future!’ That is how one longs for a future.

“And how, Practitioners, does one not long for a future? One does not nurture delight there by thinking: ‘May I have such-and-such a form or body in the future!’ ‘May I feel such-and-such in the future!’ ‘May I perceive such-and-such in the future.’ ‘May I intend such-and-such in the future.’ ‘May I have such-and-such a consciousness in the future!’ That is how one does not long for a future.”

“And how, Practitioners, is one drawn away from present-moment events? Here, Practitioners, an untrained, ordinary person – who has not seen the wise, and so who is untrained and unskilled in the teachings of the wise; who has no regard for true people, and so who is untrained and unskilled in their teachings – sees form as self; or self as owning form; or form as in self; or self as in form.

“[And so it is for feeling-tones, perceptions, intentional factors, and consciousness, in the ordinary, untrained person.] That is how one is drawn away from present-moment events.

“And how, Practitioners, is one invincible in regard to present-moment events? Here, Practitioners, a well-taught, noble student – who has seen the wise, and so who is trained and skilled in the teachings of the wise; who has regard for true people, and so who is and trained and skilled in their teachings – doesn’t see form as self; or self as owning form; or form as in self; or self as in form.

“[And so it is for feeling-tones, perceptions, intentional factors, and consciousness, in a well-taught person.] That is how one is invincible in respect of present-moment events.

Don’t chase after a past, and don’t long for a future.
Don’t chase after a past, and don’t long for a future.
What has gone is finished with, and the future is not yet come.
Invincible, unmovable, see clearly whatever is present now –
this, right here – and so develop wisdom.
Today, right away, do what needs to be done.
Who knows? Death could know you tomorrow.
There’s certainly no bargaining with Death’s great hordes.
But one who lives ardently, day and night,
Such a one is an auspicious day, the peaceful sage announces.

“So this was what I meant when I said: ‘Practitioners, “I will now reveal the true meaning of ‘One who has an auspicious day.’”

That is what the Flourishing one said, and the mendicants were satisfied by, and delighted in, the his words.

Translated by Christopher J. Ash, Blackheath, NSW, Australia. ©2016.

Experiment: Just Sit, No Guidelines, No Rules

And let us repeat that the direct perception of this perfect existential vegetative joy should not entail any fear of death but, on the contrary, should definitely neutralise this; indeed the fear of death presupposes the imaginative mental evocation of death; but the direct perception of existential reality in three dimensions, in the present moment, would cast into the void all the imaginative phantoms concerning a past or a future without present reality. – Hubert Benoit, in The Supreme Doctrine: Psychological Studies in Zen Thought

‘Just sitting’ meditation is exactly this direct perception of existential reality in three dimensions. But not many people can do a long sit, this way, straight off.

Does it ever occur to you that it is very odd that we find doing nothing difficult? That we don’t like to find the mind silent, and still. When I assign a seeker the experiment of just sitting quietly doing nothing; or, the experiment of investigating whether their self-images can really get the whole person, the aliveness that is the person sitting on the meditation cushion, it can be scary for the person.

One person said to me, “A part of me thinks that makes perfect sense, and another part of me says, ‘Let’s not go there!’” And, she demonstrated the feel of that by holding her hands in a stop motion, not letting in the suggestion. It was good that she could see it was a ‘part,’ and not the whole of her.

I was listening to the Nathalie Goldberg & Dosho Port CD Zen Howl. On it Natalie suggests that we usually allow our thoughts to dominate our minds, and she says this is because we have of a fear of being here.

She describes her discovery, as she developed in her zazen, that to just sit was frightening. Her heart raced, when her mind quietened down, she says, because being here was too real. That’s one way it happens, the fear of just being here is too real, for a mind used to being cushioned from reality by thought-production.

I am suggesting that we have become used to a ‘reality’ which is mediated by our egocentricity, and to just sit is to open to the big life process, and the ‘more’ which we can’t own, can’t control, can’t predict, and so on. If we can just sit, and not interfere with our experience, we find that we are not something apart from the big, wild, life process. Existence is the big thing that holds you – what Karl Jaspers called Existenz, the source of authenticity – but it’s also what you are.

Considering it from the point of view of giving up our egocentric view of life, another way of experiencing this is that the fear happens because being truly here feels like dying – dying to the familiar kind of self, oneself organised by one’s self-images. At such times it feels like our usual self is going to disappear.

However, when approached skilfully, the practice of ‘just sitting’ (which all Buddhist schools teach) can be the deepest form of self-realisation, because the meditator sees directly that existence is the main thing, not living – and that existence is beneficent. There’s a poem from the Zenrin-kushu, a Zen text:

Sitting quietly, doing nothing.
Spring comes, and the grass grows of itself.

This doesn’t sound possible, to a non-meditator. “How can that be,” he says? “Just sitting and letting life happen, without any preferences? The mind doing nothing?”

It’s so ironic, that the very things that make meditation attractive – a silent, still, spacious mind – are the things that look like death to the untrained mind. I asked a non-meditator, once, what did he think would happen if conscious thought stopped. “We’d die,” he said without hesitation.

However, that was his imagination masquerading as certainty. Silent meditation of the ‘just sit’ variety is a good training for living without the fear of death. We give ourselves a daily practice of ‘simply existing.’ It needn’t be long, if you’re a beginner to could just set a timer for three minutes, and while aware of leg, arms and breathing, just sit without any rules about ‘how to meditate’ or ‘how to be mindful for three minutes.’ There’s nothing you have to change, remove, or add to yourself in that time.

The way I got into this, decades ago, was to feel into ‘just being.’ I knew that this much (at some level, or at least provisionally) was true: I ‘am.’ So, I figured that if I just let the ‘I am’ be here, and feel it without elaborating it into ‘I am this,’ or ‘I am that,’ then I could safely forget about that great bugbear, Survival. There’s a book based on Ken Wilber’s work, called The Simple Feeling of Being. That title says the whole thing, I think. But you have to sit with fear, before it stops being a pest. We can give up fear of fear.

One has to meet the resistance of the imagined self. It resists the imagined not-self. The not-self comes in many forms. We’ve mentioned some. I’ve said that it comes in the evocation of a future moment in which “You will die, if you just don’t get this mind thinking!” It feels like that silence, that stillness, is another not-self which will engulf you. Appreciation of just sitting can be an antidote. One is not appreciating the present, when fear is present. But, you can discover that the fear is just another present experience, and appreciate its now-ness energy.

Three minutes can be interminable, of course. Conceiving time itself creates fear. The fear of death can only occur in that over-arching conceptual framework called serial-time! Does that make sense to you? Any time you are fearing, just ask yourself: “Am I telling a story involving a future?” This is so, even if the future feels like a immediately pending moment; or, if it feels like a general future. However, sitting quietly, relaxing, breathing, aware of your two sit-bones, welcoming fear, this enables the insight that all this commotion is contrived by the imagination; and, like all things, it passes.

Furthermore, you can enter Being-time, which can’t be measured out in units laid out in a line. What peace and joy! Didn’t Jesus say to Nicodemus that man must die in order to be reborn?

Basic Meaningfulness

[Note; Events today rendered impossible my planned ‘practical tips on mindfulness’ post. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy these reflections.]

“The theoretical construct of mindfulness and the practices informed by this notion have gone through considerable development over two and a half thousand years of Buddhist thought, making it impossible to speak of ‘Buddhist mindfulness’ as if this were a monolithic concept.” – Bhikkhu Anālayo, scholar-practitioner.

Seeking definitions is something that we overdo, I think. In the case of mindfulness, it’s certainly a difficult thing. So, remember, if I say something about mindfulness, it’s only to send you back to your own experiencing, to see how it is in there, when I say one thing or another. I am speaking of ‘mindfulness’ as I understand it, as I read it in the Pāli Nikāyas.

I do prefer that version to the usual modern secular definitions of mindfulness. Here’s a recent example, from a U.S. magazine: “it is our ability to notice what’s going on in our minds and our bodies and our surroundings, to nonjudgmentally take note of our thoughts as they arise, and allow them to dissolve.”

It’s pretty good as it goes, but I am concerned that there seems to be, in that approach, an assumption that our noticing, noting, and allowing – even if we do manage to be nonjudgmental – is imagined to be ‘meaning-free’ – that is, somehow without the mind who is mindful.

So, lately I’ve been carrying around the feeling that an acknowledgement that meaningfulness is always present might change how we see ‘mindfulness.’ Knowing, noticing, noting and allowing always have as their base some kind of meaningfulness.

Even ‘bare attention,’ a phrase popular in various schools of mindfulness – which, nevertheless, isn’t found in the Nikāyas – even this is pregnant with meaningfulness based on the attentive organism’s evolutionary history, and on one’s personal development. All that is implicit; it need not come in the usual form of conceptual elaboration.

Let’s for the sake of argument say that the meditator has mastered the art of calming practice (samatha), and that her mind is one-pointed, calm, and clear. (Traditionally this is the basis for looking more deeply, and asking the big questions about consciousness.)

Certainly, a non-conceptual grounding can come into view, in this case. It’s ‘bare’ in a sense, but even this is not free of meaningfulness. If it were, it wouldn’t be sustained by the meditator. Because, the meditator knows its value, non-conceptually or as directly felt in the body. We can say that, often, the body knows the goodness of such a state.

In respect of the above magazine definition, I assume ‘nonjudgmental’ means: not attacking oneself for the mental-emotional habits which come into view. That’s a good aspect of ‘bare attention.’ If the ‘bare attention’ idea has any merit, it probably has to do with a willingness to openly experience what arises and ceases. Superego attacks would obviously not help, with that.

So, even if one is faithful to the actuality of experience, then truly pure, direct experience may arise – true awareness – which may be described as silent, still, and clear. But what one realizes, when reflecting on that experience, was that there was a kind of meaningfulness, there, too. It’s not conceptual meaning– it’s the feeling that comes with being, the feel of suchness. Perhaps this is what Chogyam Trunpa meant by ‘basic goodness.’

No How and Know-How of Mindfulness

No How and Know-How of Mindfulness

Mindfulness can’t be learned, and it can. It can’t be practised and it can. There can be moments even for a beginner that you find yourself mindful by nature, and there’s nothing to do at that moment but to recognise, appreciate and rest.

Those moments when pure awareness arises spontaneously, to recognise is not to do anything special. When you notice it, you are there. To appreciate, I suggest that you appreciate it like you appreciate a gentle breeze on a summer afternoon. You simply feel its presence with your whole body, and appreciate the beauty of the clarity and warmth of natural awareness.

And, rest? Letting go of all the usual support. Certainly don’t try to make sense of the experience. It has its own order. This is true refuge.

Such epiphanies will happen again and again, if you continue the practice of mindfulness. When you first experience it, naturally, you’ll want to name it, to grasp it. But it slips out of sight. Yet, as it happens again, you grasp less and less. Eventually you know, that the nameless boundlessness, as it turns out, knows; and, knows more than conceptualizing mind can know.

So, practise being in the present, allowing all the experiential interplay of body, felt life, and thoughts to present themselves and dissolve in spacious awareness. Get used to it, and when the utter openness of Being presents, rest into the flow of it.

You – the nameless – know, and you – the thinker – can’t know. Of course, you the nameless person learn to appreciate, and rest. Rest in peace, you might say, because you’re dying to your usual identity. You the person are is a living event, and so it is that knowing can occur through/in/as you. It can’t happen in a computer or a robot (sadly for the AI industry) – because, not being organic, they can’t feel their situations. Knowing needs bodily feeling.

(I take the view that this is so for deep knowing in dreamless sleep, or in meditation without feeling and perception. These states don’t happen without a body. The body is the background, on-going process, while those mental states occur. However, this is just a model – or a theory if you like. It’s not necessary to believe it, or not.)

Knowing is utterly mysterious. Though, what is verifiable is that you won’t find the knower in any content. The knowing (or the knower, if you wish to risk the label) is nameless – as intimate than the spacious ground of your mind.

Where does it leave us? Well, having said that, I’m going to transgress, and suggest some actions of a light-of-touch attention. Most of the time, you’re active. You’re walking, sitting, standing, or lying down – and maybe there’s crouching, as a twelve-year-old child suggested to me once – and so you always have opportunities for moments of presence.

Whatever the activity, the bodily-felt knowing of your total situation is available as your whole-body awareness. That pointer is there in the opening passages of the ‘Mindlessness of Breathing Sutta; that is, in the training to know our breathing with our whole body. Know with your whole breathing body that you are walking, standing, sitting, standing, crouching, talking, listening.

Your knows what it is to be present. You know what it’s like to be mindless, don’t you? Or, at least you have an aftertaste of the mindlessness, when you pop out of it. You’ve gone five minutes past the turn off to a familiar destination, and you haven’t noticed what you’re doing, then suddenly – pop! You’re out of your mindlessness.

Or, you’re meditating, and suddenly you realise that you’ve spent nearly the whole sit going over what your boss did you recently. Pop! You’re out and present. Right then, come into the body, and feel the vibrations of what you’ve been doing. Appreciate the actuality of this, the past echoing in the present body.

There was a kind of protest movement in the sixties, called the human be-in. As often as you can, be in your experience. Make your protest against the mindless consensus culture, and dwell in the whole of your experience, just as it is in this moment. Label the activity, the human being. One function of mindfulness is to remember to do that, as often as possible.

These are experiments in consciousness – which it is good to carry lightly, of course. Zealous for wakefulness is good, but don’t be over-zealous. The tension in your body will be a good warning light where this is concerned. Experiment, and experiment, and experiment. You are responsible for your wakefulness.

Tomorrow, I’ll give you some more ideas for mindfully experimenting with consciousness.


“Negative thoughts can spring forth in long chains of association, populating your mind with unwanted negative emotions. It can be tempting to dam up the spring – to suppress your negativity. But science shows that attempts to block out negative thoughts and emotions backfire. Instead of reducing unwanted negativity, suppression multiplies your misery, mentally, physically, and socially. Perhaps counter-intuitively, being open to negativity is healthier than being closed off from it. Another scientifically tested way to curb negativity’s momentum is practising mindfulness.” – Positivity researcher Barbara Fredrickson, in Positivity.

It is encouraging to know that mindfulness enables us to turned toward unpleasant and difficult mind states with a view to transformation. However, it’s not as simple as that, is it? If you’ve tried to welcome fear, you will know what I mean. Nikāya-style mindfulness comes upon, encounters, or finds much, much more than we set out to discover, for the very reason that life is different than we imagine it to be.

I’m saying that it can be discouraging, this meeting with whatever is unpleasant residing in your experience. The analogy is either a light coming on suddenly, or the dimmer being turned up very slowly; and either way, what comes into view is the mess we have made of our own minds. It can be a shock.

Given this, who would want to begin, if they knew this. And, once having started, seeing this, isn’t it natural is that the mind begins to forget to pay attention? We are very different than we imagine ourselves to be when we first set out on this journey. It is said that one Tibetan teacher used to tell people in his audiences, that if they haven’t begun the spiritual work, they should leave now; because once they get on that train, they can’t get off.

When we know this, then the Nikāya Buddha’s hesitancy to teach what he had discovered – the deathless – is understandable. Of course, people with some kind of ascetic personality will be attracted to such a vision. The rest of us need to recognise that patience and skill is required, and strengthen ourselves. To begin, we can learn to find pleasure in, and to enjoy, ‘work.’

I’ve looked for a long time for a better word to describe the ongoing personal engagement with the ‘mind’ aspect of our lives. What I want the word ‘work’ to do, here, is to suggest several qualities of the kind of energy that we end up bringing to this transformation. Qualities such as persistence, courage, compassion, and. a gentle but penetrating acuity, to name a few. The word ‘work’ also suggests a seriousness.

Obviously, I don’t mean a seriousness that is unhappy, or joyless, or goes around with a furrowed brow. (Quite the opposite. One’s laughter comes more frequently, and it deepens.) No, this is more the kind of seriousness which we find reflected in the word ‘gravitas.’ It’s more that there is concern – concern, in the sense of being moved to respond to life, because you are alive, and life is real after all. This concern happens because we resonate with life. It happens, this responsiveness, because life and ourselves are given together.

Therefore, we need to be proactive in inviting joy – making joy a welcome guest in this body. Positive feelings make us flexible and more able to allow concern to flow in us. Being conscious of present-moment experiencing is a prerequisite, naturally, to noticing positive elements which already arise in our experience. It’s only steps beyond that to be conscious that you are experiencing – and that this fact is extraordinary! To be alive at all is precious.

There is the right kind of suffering to have. There is the right kind of pleasure to be had. Mindfulness of the body helps us know the feeling of a right kind of ‘having,’ the appropriate relationship with experience – appropriate in the sense that it ‘works.’

My research has revealed that our mindlessness can be very costly and that an increase in mindfulness results in an increase in competence, health and longevity, happiness, creativity, charisma, and makes us more satisfied with our work, to name a few of the findings.” – Mindfulness researcher Ellen J. Langer (2007). On Becoming an Artist.

Mindful Here and Now, and Deeper

In my vocabulary, I want to distinguish between awareness and thinking. Mindfulness means being aware of what is happening now. We cannot be directly aware of ‘what was,’ nor of ‘what will be’ – except as aspects of the ‘now.’ We do think about what was, and we do think about what will be, just as we think
about what is – but awareness can only be of ‘what is.’

Say I have a bodily feel, with some images and words, relating to my art class which I enjoyed earlier today. By being aware of my ‘memory’ (that is, aware of the bodily and mental events in the present), I can recall and think about my participation in the class, about that ‘past.’ But, when I do that, I am not, precisely speaking, aware of the ‘past’ as most people mean it – that is, as something gone, done with, over and finished. Such a past is an abstraction.

Don’t chase after a past, and don’t long for a future.
What has gone is finished with, and the future is not yet come.
Invincible, unmovable, see clearly whatever is present now –
this, right here – and so develop wisdom.

An Auspicious Day, Bhaddekaratta Sutta (Majjhima Nikāya, 131). Translated by Christopher J. Ash.

There is that approach. And, one can also take the approach that the past and future are present, here now. The past is functioning in my present, or I couldn’t talk about: “I spent two hours on a watercolour, and didn’t get to use water at all. I spent my time drawing.”

So, there is awareness, and there is thinking. We’ll look more closely at ‘awareness’ later; but for now, let’s say: you can’t think of something unless you are aware of it first. So the natural, ancestral field for mindfulness is awareness of the ‘what is.’ It may get some support from thinking, but it is primarily the bodily dwelling in immediate awareness. Says the Nikāya Buddha:

Invincible, unmovable, see clearly whatever is present now –
this, right here – and so develop wisdom.
Today, right away, do what needs to be done.
Who knows? Death could know you tomorrow.

Because mindfulness is about now, because the basic fact of awareness is available to us, it can therefore be recognized and cultivated by each of us.

Given that it appears (falsely) easier for us to indulge the ‘default mode’ of mind (as neuroscientists call it) – that mode of functioning given over to rumination and distraction – then why would we put in the tremendous effort which it takes to be mindful? Isn’t it easier to be mindless a lot of the time?

From the Nikāya Buddha’s point of view, it’s good to develop mindfulness for one’s “pleasant abiding, here and now.” That is, at some stage, mindful ushers in a less stressful way of being. (With training, you can see the results immediately.) This way (or, Way) doesn’t exclude thinking; but includes thinking as a conscious activity in the present. This is one reason why stress reduces.

However, primarily, he sees it as a means to developing insight; from learning to think freshly, and with reference to our present-moment knowing. And, his wish is that we learn to think freshly into that particular affliction which causes so much suffering in the world, that which we might, in our modern Western culture, call: ‘everyday narcissism’ (sakkāya-diṭṭhi).

The Pāli English Dictionary etymology of Sakkāya-diṭṭhi is helpful: diṭṭhi = view; and, sat+kāya = the body existing, or being. It’s the view of oneself based on thinking that the body exists on its own; or from its own side. Sakkāya-diṭṭhi is usually translated as ‘personality view.’

As I see it, the origin of the term points us to the process of locating a ‘fixed self’ in our aware processes (‘self’ as a locatable something, and not as process). We do this on the basis of the belief or view that the body exists as a separate unit. In philosophy this is called reifying – making a fixed ‘thing’ out of a process. The error comes from depending more on our concepts, rather than on our present-moment awareness.

The Nikāya Buddha recommends abandoning this habit. But to arrive at that possibility, we need to become very intimately acquainted with the functioning of: i) our bodily-form; ii) our pleasurable, painful or neutral sensations (also called feeling-tones, or hedonic valuing); iii) the many states of our psyche (mind); iv) and how all of this functions dynamically. These are the four domains for our mindfulness which reveal our narcissistic patterns.

How else will we have insight into our basic problem situation, but by remembering to give attention to our very being in everyday situations, in all our activities? This remembering, and this non-conceptual presence in real, everyday situations, constitute mindfulness. And, how else will we be clear about the ‘I’ of ‘I am subject to death’?

“A contemplative is one who acts with full awareness when going backward and forward. She acts with full awareness when looking ahead or about her, when bending and stretching her limbs, when dressing, and when carrying things. She acts with full awareness when eating and drinking, chewing and tasting; and when defecating and urinating. When walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, and keeping silent, she acts with full awareness.”

– From The Four Placements of Mindfulness Sutta (Satipaṭṭhāna-sutta), translated by Christopher J. Ash.

When mindfulness of breathing is cultivated and practised in this way, even one’s last in-breath & out-breath are known as they cease; they are not unknown,” he said to his son, Rahula.

A Conversation about a Bad Space

Christopher: “We’re looking at mindfulness in the Buddhist context – with a mind to understanding our relationship to death – and I was thinking that if we understand the problem situation better, we might be able to understand what mindfulness can do for us; or, even what mindfulness can be.”

Kent: “Problem situation?”

C: “Yes. In the Buddhadharma the human problem situation is put in terms of dukkha; which is rather badly translated into English as ‘suffering.’ Dukkha is not just any old suffering, though. It’s a specific kind of suffering. So…

Melisa: “Isn’t dukkha defined as birth, illness, death, and so on? ‘There is dukkha’ means there is shitty stuff in life.””

C: “That’s one approach. It is often said that birth, illness, death, association-with-the-unpleasing, separation-from-the-pleasing, not-getting-what-one-wants – that these are dukkha. I can’t see that as an intelligent approach to human life.

“So, in order to understand it experientially, rather than in accordance with hearsay and tradition, we could ask: what do birth-dukkha, illness-dukkha, death-dukkha, association-with-the-unpleasing-dukkha, separation-from-the-pleasing-dukkha, not-getting-what-one-wants-dukkha, what do they have in common, when we encounter them?”

K: “We’d have to understand the word ‘dukkha’ more closely, wouldn’t we?”

Melissa: “When I invite the pained-body, pained-speech and pained-mind associated with those life events, I feel some sort of urgency, some sort of… intensity.”

C: “Yes. It would appear it is intense. Is that the very first thing you notice?”

K: “A kind of hunger accompanies this.”

C: “Yes. A thirst to do something, right? Rather than to let reality present you with its raw face. Birth and death, illness, and difficulties – this is the raw side of life, right? It would be unrealistic to expect a rose garden, only, in life.”

K: “Even roses die.”

M: “I certainly see that. There is illness and we want that it doesn’t happen to us. There is death, and we don’t want it to come.”

K: “We want it not to come.”

M: “Yes. And, ‘to come to me,’ especially. It’s not a big deal, if it’s out there in the world, but I want to avoid it for me and my loved ones.”

C: “So, You’ve introduced how one’s self-image is involved – the Narcissus theme – because the longing belongs to a ‘me.’ That plays a part in it. In fact, the last part of that traditional statement about birth, death, illness and so on, names the whole situation this way, as: ‘clinging-to-the-fivefold-sentient-processes-dukkha.’ Clinging to our image of how things should be, then, is central.

“So, we’re investigating the feeling of ‘things being out-of-kilter,’ ‘skew-whiff’; or the feeling that no matter what we do to secure peace and happiness, there is always a pervasive, unsatisfying element. And, we see that clinging to concepts plays a part in that.”

M: “And, more generally, there’s a subtle way we feel a little too active, most of the time.”

K: “You know, Christopher. I’ve been doing some reading, and it appears to me that you’re deviating from the standard view.”

C: “Which is?”

K: “Which is that the very fact of a stubbed toe is dukkha. Shit happens, and that fact is dukkha.”

C: “I know what you mean. That view is out there. And, you’re right – I don’t find that view useful. It seems to me there’s no justification for it, except an emotional rejection of life-as-it-is. But that very rejection is dukkha.

“Anyhow, that view doesn’t make sense of the entirety of the teachings; and, I’ve found that it is allied to the view that liberation (nibbāna) is release away from life processes – liberation out of life. Instead, I experience liberation as the liberation from clinging.”

M: “Do you mean it’s not liberation from pain?”

C: The ‘stubbed toe’pain is not intrinsically ‘dukkha,’ no. I notice that this view accompanies the ‘life stinks’ attitude, which I’ve met in some Buddhists.

“So, you’re right, Kent. After decades of inquiry, I’ve settled, for me, that nibbāna is a release from the bondage of clinging, and that, if it’s not a release into more realness in life – a real life of compassion – then it’s not worth my limited energy.”



“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to [us] as it is: infinite.” – William Blake, A Memorable Fancy

Before I articulate my version of the ‘how’ of mindfulness, I offer this opportunity to play with some kind of mindfulness, via some simple experiments in ‘knowing.’


If you want a taste of what I might mean by ‘the immeasurable,’ find yourself a quiet and pleasant spot. Be aware of your arm, then legs, and then your belly. See if you can track, just for a minute or two, the fact that you are breathing.

Then, when you’re ready, when just a little calm has come, ask yourself this question: “Am I?” Just this: ‘Am I?’

Feel into the way the body is, before any answers come. Notice that if you say “Yes, I am” (which you must), this can only point back to (that is, have as its referent) that open, silent, clarity which is the feel that is there in the moment after asking the question. Ask it again, to refresh that hazy, cloud-hidden, open feel.

Play with it. Ask the question several times, appreciating more and more, that silent moment of being. Hit the refresh button, again and again, to prevent the moment from being packaged by concepts. Notice the boundless wholeness of wide-open awareness. Resonate the word ‘suchness’against this simple, open felt quality. Does that fit?


Of course, the ’am’ in ‘Am I?’ is just a way of saying ‘be.’ The expression ‘I be’ long ago used to be standard English; though it sounds quaint now. So, because it is now non-standard, it might, therefore, be able to work freshly. So, try this: say “I be,” and let “I be” point to the whole of your experience, right now, right here.

Check in with the just-so quality of your un-messed-with ‘I be’ experience; that quality which is there before the verbal answer comes. It’s not about measurability or non-measurability, actually – those are only labels. It is about tasting what is.


Try this, a variation on an exercise from Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness.

Put your earphones on and give yourself three or four minutes of relaxing music. During that three or four minutes, simply relax your cheek muscles and feel the bodily state that comes with the resulting half-smile. –At the same time, be lightly, ten-percent aware of your inhalations and exhalations. Keep knowing that half-smile feel in your body, and the awareness of the breath, until the music ends.

Possibly, it could be said that you are hearing the music, rather than listening to it.

After the song, journal for ten minutes, just starting with the experience of the experiment, and then continuing on.


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