The next essential skill is mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to be immediately aware of the present moment in a curious, open and non-attached manner. It is a position of merely observing without reaction. Without the reaction of neither aversion (fear) nor of attraction (love). In part, it is the ability to remain in an equanimous or undisturbed observational state. It is the detached observation of our thoughts, feelings, behaviors and reactions in our experiential field or experience. Mindfulness provides the opportunity to observe the subtle patterns of development, manifestation and dissolution of thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Mindfulness subsequently leads to insight and understanding of these thought, emotional and behavioral patterns. Ultimately, mindfulness provides opportunities to make conscious decisions about our thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
A simple 4 stage progression for the development of mindfulness:
First is the ability to sustain a level of focus or attention. It is the ability to concentrate on a single thing for some time. Often it is referred to as “one pointedness or single mindedness.” This ability to focus on a single thing is like a concentrated laser beam of attention. That is your focused attention on one thing until it starts to open up and reveal itself. A natural place to start developing your ability to focus on one thing is your breath. Whenever you become aware that your attention is not on your breath and has wondered off, just gently bring your awareness back to your breath as it moves in and out.
Second is the ability to observe without reacting or responding. That is, to observe without having a fear, aversion or recoil reaction. Nor having a love reaction of being seduced, being drawn-in or having resonant feelings of joy or bliss. In some meditative schools, this is taught as meditating on impermanence and developing non-attachment. For many folks this non-reacting or state of detachment is difficult. However, an easy way to think about this is to suspend your judgment. Instead of making a judgment of “good or bad, positive or negative, light or dark”…just note to yourself “well isn’t this interesting! It’s both good and bad, positive and negative or light and dark.” However, the focus is on merely stating, “isn’t this interesting.” When a person makes a judgement, then there is no further observation and analysis. However, in the observational “isn’t this interesting” mindset it allows for the next insight stage. *Tip…if you notice that you are wandering and becoming involved or having a fear or love reaction; then merely gently re-focus on your breathing and re-establish your equanimous observational posture.
The third stage is insight. With the ability to focus and observe without responding or making a judgment, then a person is able to witness insight. You are in an equanimous posture to “witness” the revelations of the inner workings and salient aspects of whatever you focus on. Insight is often in the form of recognizing or become aware of a pattern of thoughts, feelings or behaviors.
For example, often folks come in depressed over some situation in life; like a separation or divorce or job loss, bankruptcy or death of a friend and such. Many times an underlying feature is the concept of “fairness.” In life, we are taught to play by the rules, work hard, be kind and the expectation is fairness or karma or that we will be treated in a fair manner. So we do our best and despite it, something seemingly unfair occurs…let’s say that we get passed over for a job promotion. Often the response is anger and being upset at the other person, our self and the situation of being treated unfairly. First take some deep breaths, then become curious and make the statement…”well isn’t this interesting! I wonder why I’m angry and upset about being treated unfairly? What is fairness? Where did I get the concept of fairness? Why is fairness so important to me? Why do I feel disrespected? Often what is revealed is that our expectation of fairness was not met. Maybe we were raised with a sense of fairness and it is one of our core values. However the deeper insight might be…”why should I let this situation define who I am or determine how I feel or make me angry or subsequently invalidate my sense of well-being.” We realize that the world is not fair and there are no guarantees of fairness in life. However, we have insight into our experience of fairness in the world. We realize that we are not defined by the behavior or actions of others but by the actions of ourself. Furthermore, that we have the ability to choose to treat others fair manner despite being treated unfairly. Therefore, we make the effort to treat others fairly despite the situation, because this is what we determine our self to be.
The fourth stage is “OK”, now what? Now that we understand and recognize the dynamics, patterns and presentations of whatever is brought to our mindful awareness. There is now the opportunity to influence or change our experience. We have the ability to focus, observe and have insight in to the dynamics; and therefore, we are in a position choose what and when. Being mindful, we can choose a different outcome, path or experience. The next post is about how to make these choices or decisions.
***Again from the Eastern meditative traditions, Vipassana meditation techniques have become an adopted mainstay in the Western mindfulness school.
Peace, Love and Light!