What do we need to be mindful of? Everything. We must be mindful of our actions and the impact they have on ourselves and others. These actions will shape our lives now and in the future, so it is very important to be constantly mindful.
We have to be aware of our speech, of what we are saying. We have to be mindful of our body actions and again, be aware of their impact. We have to be mindful of our thoughts, feelings and emotions. We also have to be mindful of the work we do and its impact on society. We must be mindful of the effort we are putting into ensuring all of our actions of body, speech and mind are in line with living responsibly.
Mindfulness is not a process of doing something, rather it is a matter of doing nothing – not judging, not thinking, not planning, not wishing, not imagining. All of these are just interferences, things the mind does to take control. But mindfulness is just watching and letting go. In this process, there is no need to cling at anything. Thus, the mind stays anchored in the present and does not float back to the past with all its memories, or to the future with its hopes and fears.
The Buddha stated in the Digha Nikaya, and various other sutras, that there are Four Foundations of Mindfulness:
- mindfulness of body
- mindfulness of feelings
- mindfulness of mind
- mindfulness of mental qualities
Mindfulness of body – this means being aware of your body and all the actions carried out by it.
There are many different ways of contemplating the body, but a simple and effective one is doing a full body review.
Sit on a cushion with your legs crossed and back straight. Start by concentrating on your toes. Are they relaxed or tense? If they are tense, just relax them and release the tension. Now move to your feet and do the same. Slowly move up your body, watching where the tension is and releasing it. In today’s world, we always seem to be running from pillar to post, so this meditation will help you get back in tune with your body. I am sure you will be surprised at how much tension you are carrying around in your body.
What does this mean on a daily basis? It means that whatever you do with your body affects you and everyone around you. When you live responsibly, you must be mindful of the unwholesome acts you do with your body – stealing, sexual misconduct and killing. You should look back on the day and see what actions you have carried out with your body. The ones that are conducive to responsible living should be noted. This will ensure that, with enough repetition, they soon become spontaneous. The ones that are not conducive to living responsibly should also be noted and a clear effort should be made to not do them again. This can be done by rehearsing a better way to have acted, so in the future you will naturally act in a different way. It is through staying mindful of the actions of our bodies that we will be able to live responsibly.
Mindfulness of Feelings There are three types of feelings: pleasant, painful and neutral. One of these three are present during every moment of our experience. They may be strong or weak, clear or cloudy, but they are always present.
If we are not mindful and leave our feelings unchecked, pleasant feelings can lead to desire, painful feelings to hatred and neutral feelings to ignorance.
A good time to check your feelings is during your daily review session. When you think of an incident that happened that day, check to see what feelings it had invoked in you. Did it bring up pleasant, painful or neutral feelings? Don’t try and control the feelings, just be mindful of them and then let them go.
Mindfulness of mind is looking at the mind as though you are looking in a mirror. Ask yourself, ‘How is my mind at the moment?’ ‘Is it full of desire, full of anger, full of ignorance, is it present in the moment or distracted?’ We should look at our mind in this way, and just see it as it is, not pass any judgement or think of it as ‘my mind’. We have to turn the mind upon itself and see if it is associated with any of the ten unwholesome states. If it is, do not cling to that, simply note it and let it pass.
Our minds, if left unchecked, can lead us into all kinds of situations. This is why the Buddha stated that we should observe our minds, but not engage with what we see – just let it go.
We rarely stop and spend time on observing our minds. We just let thoughts, hopes, fears and dreams come and go unchecked. During your review session, observe your mind and see what state it is in: is it tired, lazy, angry, happy or disturbed? Note the state, but don’t try to change it. Awareness of our mind will help us lead a life where we are not getting disturbed nor disturbing others.
In A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, Shantideva says:
Whenever I have the desire
To move my body or to say something,
First of all, I should examine my mind
And then, with steadiness, act in a proper way.
Mindfulness of mental States When we begin to be mindful of mental states, we start to see obstacles arise in the form of the five hindrances. These hindrances are mental states that can lead us astray, take us away from responsible living. These hindrances are – being gripped by desire, feelings of ill will, lack of interest, restlessness and doubt.
It would be safe to say that we have all had days when we feel lazy or anxious, and unable to stay focused. There are other days where we are so consumed by our desires, we cannot think of anything else. Maybe someone upset us the previous day and due to our thoughts of ill will, we are unable to focus. Of course, there is doubt, too. If we carry around this strong feeling of uncertainty or disbelief, it is very difficult for us to concentrate. During your daily review, look at what hindrances have distracted you recently. There is a lot of ground to cover here, so maybe it is best for you to concentrate one week on mind and mental states, another week on body, and finally a week on speech. If you do this review, you will see that the hindrances that occur on a regular basis. It is the antidotes to these hindrances you have to concentrate on and be mindful of. Apply whatever antidotes are required to remove your frequent hindrances.
This brings us to the end of Right Mindfulness. If we are going to be mindful, and live a responsible life, we have to be fully aware of, but not tangled up in, our bodies, feelings, minds and mental states. By being mindful, we will be able to take full responsibility for all our actions. This will ensure that our minds become calmer
and we travel through life in the present moment, not by being tossed backwards and forwards from past to future. Being mindful means being conscious of every thought, feeling, emotion and action. We are aware of the present moment, but not engaged with it.