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Right mindfulness (part one)

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Wednesday, 26 Oct 2022, 21:32


The word mindfulness means to keep something in mind. To remember.

In Buddhism there are four foundations to Right mindfulness, these are:

1. The body, 

2. Feelings (In Buddhism feelings are a mix of sense impressions and the mental tone of like/dislike that accompanies them, they are not emotions, emotions come under the third foundation of mindfulness.)

3. Mind (emotions, mood, state of mind).

4. Dhamma categories (the teachings on how to use mindfulness to reach nibbana and the end of suffering.)

This is not something that one goes over in one go like a piece of music, this is more a collection of meditation objects, some reflective/contemplative, others for entering states of lucid stillness (samhadi). One does not have to do everything on this list every time they meditate, one just simply chooses a topic that fits well for the situation or mood one is in. A bit like a swiss army knife of helpful tools for different occasions. 

Mindfulness of the body

This starts with awareness of the four postures: walking, standing, sitting or lying down. When one is sitting, one knows they are sitting, when standing, one knows they are standing... and so on... This helps train us to become more aware of the body.The feeling of embodiment can be a pleasurable experience, as it can feel grounding and stops the head floating off like a helium balloon.

Next is mindfulness of breathing. This is something many of us will already be familiar with, so I won't write much, other than one important thing to note is that mindfulness of the breath is not meant to be a dry experience. One should develop interest in it, a sense of wonder about the air element, as this makes the meditation more enjoyable and easier to practise. In time it becomes an indulgence, an opportunity to have a break from your worldly concerns, a tonic that you can take with you anywhere, and the freedom to disengage from the thought processes for a time. 

 Next is mindfulness of the present moment. This is about being aware of where one is, one's surroundings, what one is doing, one's behaviour, of that which is appropriate, and that which is non-delusion. A lucid awakeness during the course of daily life. Here one maintains a sense of composure and dignity, whilst respecting the space and peace of others as you go about your day. 

Next is a list of 32 parts of the body, listed by the Buddha as: head hair, body hair, skin, nails, teeth, flesh, sinews, bones, bone marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, spleen, diaphragm, lungs, intestines, mesentery, contents of stomach, faeces, bile, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, spittle, mucus, oil of joints, fat, and urine.

This exercise is mainly for monks and nuns to help them deal with lust. But it can be helpful for lay people too, as our world is caught up in attachment to the body, which generates much misery and leads to desire, obsession, body dysphoria, mental illness, and the stress of trying to live up to social expectations on how the body should look and perform.To be free of all that worry is a real blessing.

The first five parts in the Buddha's list are easy to remember, and these are also the body parts we tend to find attractive in ourselves and others: head hair, body hair, skin, nails and teeth. It is interesting to note that these are also the dead parts of the body.The living parts, which are hidden under the layer of skin, we find repulsive and are slightly afraid of. It is odd really. What is attraction?

 The most beautiful hair in the world becomes otherwise if it lands in one's soup. A pile of discarded nails is not particularly appealing, nor a set of teeth in a glass.The skin is actually a dead leaky covering, not alive at all, and not even particularly nutritious it seems, as maggots when they eat a corpse, they don't eat the skin. They look for wounds, and openings so they can eat the flesh inside. Once all the flesh is eaten, the skin just flops over bones like a discarded leathery covering. 

It is important to note here, that these reflections are not meant to depress one. They are meant to be used as tools to help change one's perception of the body and free oneself from attachment to it. Which is a wise chess move. Because the body grows and ages outside of our control, it gets sick, disabled, and struggles to perform consistently. It doesn't always look the same, and that which is beautiful, handsome or strong will one day become otherwise. Time comes for all. This body is full of different beings, bacteria, cells, viruses, fungi, parasites, and they all call this body their home, they travel up and down the highways of our veins and arteries. Our being is composed of many different consciousnesses, we are an organic dance of interdependence. It is also important to note that one does not feel hostility towards the body, one feels compassion for it, takes care of it, and looks after it as well as one can, but without clinging. The body is borrowed for a brief time, it is 'not me not mine,' and one day will return to the elements.  

Next is mindfulness of the four elements: earth, water, fire, air. This is one of my favourite topics in mindfulness of the body, I practise mindfulness of the elements a lot. But I won't write much here, as this is a succinct summary of right mindfulness. Other than one contemplates how the body is made up of the four elements. Gets the feeling and sense of each element. Earth is about grounding, weight, solidity. Water is cohesion, fluidity, solubility. Fire is temperature, warmth and light. Air is movement, vibration, change. One becomes aware of the four elements within the body and also outside the body. These four elements can also be used as meditation objects to reach deep states of samhadi (meditative absorption). And it is said they can also be used for the development of psychic powers. 

The last category in mindfulness of the body is marana-sati, mindfulness of death. In the Buddha's time monks and nuns would visit what was called a charnal ground, a field where people used to dump dead bodies and leave them there to rot and be eaten by animals. The monks and nuns would spend time there meditating, looking at the corpses littered about in the various states of decomposition and remind themselves that they too are made of the same elements as the corpses, that one day their bodies will also die and decay, that they are not excempt from that fate. 

This meditation is helpful for overcoming the fear of death as well as attachment to the body. It is also good for helping motivate oneself out of laziness, as it reminds us that our time on this Earth is brief and death could come at any moment, which helps energize us to want to make best use of our precious time here - as life is short. 

Mindfulness of death is a strong medicine and may not be appropriate for everyone. One should know themselves and know if this will make them go a bit dark. This is not meant to produce depression in the mind, but liberation. In the West we are very sheltered from the sight of death, we see dead animals, but seldom dead humans, and if we do, they are usually a corpse of a relative in a coffin that has been stuffed with preservatives to slow the decay. But one can still do this meditation without needing an actual corpse, as one can use their imagination or look at photos of rotting corpses. It is important to remember that mindfulness of death is meant to be done with serenity and calm lucidity. If it doesn't bring peace to the mind it is not being done correctly. Only do this if you feel you are able to face it, this practise is not about traumatising oneself, it is about freeing oneself. Know your own mind and where you are at in your development and what you are comfortable with. Meditating on the four elements might suit you better.

That's enough for today, I will carry on writing about the other three foundations of mindfulness in another post. 


To be continued...

 

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