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Mindfulness
by Philip Shapiro   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Monday, November 28, 2005
Posted: Thursday, October 20, 2005

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Mindfulness: a way to stay open and ready for whatever life brings to us.

MINDFULNESS

I am Awake

When the people asked the Buddha if he was a god, an angel, or a saint, he said, “No.”“Then who are you?”
Buddha replied. “I am awake.”

What is the Buddha trying to tell us? What is it that we are to awaken from? Why is it important to be more conscious?

This article describes the importance of awakening from ordinary to spiritual consciousness and how mindfulness, a 2500 year-old practice taught by the Buddha, can help us with this transformation.


ORDINARY CONSCIOUSNESS OR MINDLESSNESS

The field of awareness in ordinary states of consciousness is contaminated with a variety of negative patterns of thought, feeling, and reaction. We remain largely unaware of these negative patterns and how they prevent us from reaching higher states of consciousness. In mindless states of unawareness, we are hypnotized, functioning like robots on automatic pilot, sleepwalking our way through life.

The biggest culprit is the mind. The undisciplined mind disrupts our lives by taking us out of the present moment, where our life is at its fullest. The story of life is unfolding in the now, the place where we learn, enjoy, help others, find our courage, and experience inner peace.

The undisciplined mind reaps havoc on our peace. Repeatedly, the mind takes us out of our current moments when it does not like what is going on. It fights when angry, runs when afraid, competes when jealous, creates imagined calamities, and projects fantasies from its desires.

The mind is strongly attracted to the past and the future. While it is good to learn from the past and have hopeful plans for the future, the mind goes overboard in its replays and projections. We relive past hurts, resentments, and regrets, which only serve to recycle anger, depression, and guilt. Our projections of the future breed unnecessary fear and insecurity.

We build a rigid structure of selfish, dogmatic, overvalued thoughts, opinions, likes, and dislikes. We try to get our needs met by controlling and pushing events and people. However, the world does not conform to our egotistical desires; when things do not fit, we create new desires. Instead of working with what we have that is good, we escape into fantasy, to what we think we want next. The result is an increase in mental restlessness and turbulent emotions.

The mind is at its best when it accepts and works with one moment at a time. It is not set up for the excesses of attraction, aversion, high emotional reactivity, and the avoidance of problems … all of which lead to restlessness and rumination, signs that the mind is overheated.

SPIRITUAL CONSCIOUSNESS

Mindfulness, an ancient technique of Buddhism, helps us manage our inner reactions to a turbulent and unpredictable world. We want to respond with poise and peace but all too often, our thoughts and feelings will not cooperate. While there can be no respite from troubles and pain, mindfulness helps us receive the tests and trials of life in calm repose. Practice of this simple technique helps us increase our attention and awareness so we can be awake and ready for anything. By avoiding the destructive excesses of the mind and emotions, we can receive what life brings with even-minded tranquility.

In the transformation to spiritual consciousness, we can bring the mind under control by placing it where we want it to be: in the current moment, awake, attentive, and ready. It is in this alignment that we are most able to learn, solve problems, relax, serve, and enjoy. We can enter this state by cultivating the witness as an antidote to the restlessness and ruminations of the mind.

The witness is an aspect of the higher self from which we can observe the changes of life with calm neutrality. Change is not the objective of the witness. We do not add, subtract, delete, or edit. We accept reality as it is while we change our frame and attitude. We focus on the stillness and silence within and the outer present moment. As the witness grows through the practice of mindfulness, we can slowly bring the dimensions of spaciousness and serenity to the events of life.

In ordinary consciousness, we identify with the stream of negative and disruptive thoughts, feelings, desires, impulses, and fantasies that pass through our awareness. With the practice of mindfulness, we create a space large enough to hold the negativity. In this space, we do not identify with the rubbish and therefore do not need to repress or express it, both of which are destructive. Instead, we go to the compassionate witness of the true self and create a healing space within. This is a furnace of sorts: here we can burn up the junk thoughts, feelings, desires, and fantasies that keep our consciousness from rising.

Love is more powerful than any of the wayward forces that traverse our consciousness. By invoking and affirming love and her consort qualities, we create an inner atmosphere conducive to healing. As our compassion burns up the troublemaking negativity, there is a corresponding shift to peace and strength.

Aligning the mind and attention with the present is a crucial element in the healing process. The next step in our spiritual evolution is in these moments. They hold the continuity of our story, a story pregnant with lessons, entertainment, and opportunities to produce, create, love, and serve. In the lower state of ordinary consciousness, we miss these opportunities because we are preoccupied with other fields of awareness.

To practice mindfulness, there is no need to make any changes other than the placement of the mind as we go about our usual activities. With practice, the mind remains calm and poised no matter what occurs in the material world. We remain in balance. We get the rhythm of the story. There is no force in it. We are ready for anything.

A MINDFULNESS TECHNIQUE

Steps:
1. Stop
2. Breathe
3. Present moment
4. Frame:

a.) Witness
b.) School
c.) Entertainment
d.) Service
e.) Warrior
f.) Ritual

5. Repeat
6. One continuous sacred ritual

STEP 1: STOP
The mind lapses into one of its negative habit patterns, drawing us away from the opportunities of the moment. We go for a ride on the negative thought train. Because we identify with the negativity, we think this is who we are. When we become aware that our mind is wandering, we stop thinking and focus on our breath.

STEP 2: BREATHE
Take a breath and gently bring the mind back to the reality of the moment. By simply becoming aware of our breath, we can stop the rambling mind and return to the present moments of our lives. This simple maneuver of using our breath to control the mind helps us develop our power of concentration. We develop single-minded consciousness by continually bringing our attention back to our breath, every time the mind wanders. With practice, we can stay increasingly in the present, bringing our mind out of its aimless spin, back into alignment with the present moment.

STEP 3: PRESENT MOMENT
We give our full attention to each moment. We focus on the stillness within, the present moment without, and on what we are doing.

STEP 4: FRAME
When we use the breath to calm the mind and place it in the present moment, we have an opportunity to choose from a variety of frames of reference for life, as it occurs. We cannot control most of what is going on outside, but we can control how we respond. We can choose frames that inspire, heal, soothe, purify, entertain, and transform. We can create any frame we wish. In this lesson, we will review six frames: the witness, school, entertainment, service, the warrior, and ritual.

THE WITNESS
The silent witness observes without reacting. The witness watches events unfold from a position of stillness and peace. With a single breath, we can invoke the witness. Here there is serenity, space, and observation. With the breath as a means of centering ourselves, we can begin the process of disengaging from our identification with the negative patterns of the uncontrolled mind. Instead, we create a peaceful and compassionate space large enough to hold all. Breathe and refocus on the calm witness early and often to reach for the peace and enjoyment that resides there, inhibited only by our undisciplined mind.

SCHOOL
Life is school. Students in the school of life study their inner being to learn about the self and its complexities. Mindful introspection allows us to see the distracting power of the forces that control us. Through continuous observation of the flow of our thoughts, feelings, desires, aversions, impulses, and fantasies, we come to understand ourselves better. We can see how our desires, fears, and insecurities cause tension and how, with the technique of mindfulness, we can release ourselves into stillness, spaciousness, and serenity.

When life gets difficult inside or outside, we try to get away. We run and resist by going into unawareness or fantasy. But the school of life is merely presenting a lesson that we need to learn. The teacher and the lessons are found in the moments of our lives. We cannot move up the chain of awareness without learning from them, and we cannot learn if we are not in school: that is, awake, aware, and focused on the present.

Allowing your mind to wander is the equivalent of playing hooky from school. In mindfulness, we do not fight with the teacher or run. We pay attention, listen, and cooperate in order to graduate to the next level. Peace is not found by running away; rather, we find peace by facing the problem or difficulty and going through it. Through the breath, we can enter rather than run from unpleasantness. By entering deeply into the present, we can extract the lessons and move on.

The goal is to stay calm and suffer at the same time. We can do this if we create a healing space large enough to hold any problem or pain. Then we can allow our painful problems to exist in consciousness without the destructive aspects of denial, repression, or expression.

Denial and repression drive our painful problems into the subconscious and into the body, where they are stored as negative energy. The problem remains hidden and unresolved. Destructive expressions of our pain manifest in a variety of ways, including exerting power and control over others, irritability, anger, and aggression. In effect, we spread our pain and problems to others.

Alternatively, we can cultivate an internal healing space for the pain. We can do this by invoking affirmations related to Love, kindness, acceptance, and forgiveness for ourselves. We set up a favorable environment for healing; these soul qualities are more powerful than any pain or problem. By being patient, understanding, and gentle with the self, we can learn from our problem and diffuse its charge.

When we let our pain and problems play in an enlarged, peaceful, compassionate space, negative energy is released that has been repressed over the years within our subconscious and the body. By accepting pain and problems with compassion, we end the fear of releasing negativity. By stopping the fight within, the tension of repression dissolves.

There is a profound feeling of peace when we turn the table on our suffering by offering no resistance. By fully accepting the inevitable suffering of life without repression and resistance, we gain internal power. When we gently and courageously enter our pain, we gain the knowledge and strength that will help us take on the next set of problems or lessons. This is pain control through surrender.

To shift gears from ordinary to higher consciousness, we need to think less, be aware of our breath, remain in the present, and accept pain as the teacher. Stay calm, be kind and gentle with yourself, and do the work. The result is strength, serenity, spaciousness, and stillness.

ENTERTAINMENT
The unfolding drama of life is not always about school and learning. Life is entertainment. Our stories are filled with beauty, joy, laughter, and fun. It is difficult if not impossible to see life as entertainment, however, if we are immersed in the drama, consumed by our problems and suffering.

By taking a step back from the role we are playing, we can take ourselves less seriously. We can do this by framing life as a movie or a sport. We are actors in a role, players in a game. By not identifying completely with our role, we gain distance and perspective. When we reduce our tendency to exaggerate the importance of events, we eliminate some mental restlessness and high emotional reactivity. When we calm the mind and create more operating space within, we can enjoy the show.

SERVICE
Mindfulness practice helps us escape the influence of negative thoughts and turbulent emotions. This helps us act with the consciousness of love and service, fulfilling our innate desire to nourish all who come our way with peace, kindness and joy. Gracious, warm, loving service to all of humanity and creation is a natural consequence of the sustained practice of mindfulness.

WARRIOR
The practice of mindfulness slowly replaces unbridled thoughts, feelings, and desire with serenity and stillness. Mental reactivity and turmoil subside. With a more powerful and resilient mind, the difficulties of life are less likely to throw us off course. We can deal with whatever comes and hold our ground. We do not have to run or hide.We can stay in the moment, take a stand, and hold our position. We are awake, aware, and ready for anything including work, pain, change, the unknown, even death. This is the stance of a spiritual warrior.

RITUAL
We spend a lot of time in routine daily activities: eating, strolling in the park, chatting on the phone, standing in line, cutting the grass, running to the store, baking, washing dishes, brushing teeth, tying shoes …. There is meaning in any of these routines of life, but we miss it. Because we assume the mundane is boring, the mind wanders. We lose touch with the magic and miracles secreted in every moment, everywhere, outside and inside.

The practice of mindfulness brings awe back to the routines of life in focusing on our activities and creating a context of special meaning and importance. For example, we can appreciate the moments that might otherwise be lost in boredom by recognizing the Omniscience that is always with us.

Omniscience is the infinite intelligence that permeates our body and the entire universe. As we perform any routine activity, we can think of how the body follows our command when we tell it what to do. We can think of the unfathomable intelligence that creates and operates our vision and hearing as we go about our chores and tasks. When reading, we can think of the brilliance that allows us to understand these words right now. While eating, we can think of how the stomach and intestines digest food by breaking it into molecules that are sent to the right places in the body for energy, repair, immunity, and a host of other functions. When washing our hair, we can think about how the body responds to our commands.

The intelligence that creates and operates the body is phenomenal. We are magicians, performing astounding feats throughout the day but ordinary consciousness makes the miraculous mundane. To maintain awareness of the Omniscience that permeates the universe is part of capturing the wonder, magic, and mystery of being alive, in what might otherwise appear to be the humdrum of everyday routines.

We can start such a practice with any routine, anywhere, any time. By consciously looking for the positives inside and outside, we can find them. A blessing in disguise lurks everywhere; we must only work to uncover it. If we bring the full powers of a calm, concentrated, and positive mind to our routine activities, we can capture the blessings and make them our own. With breath, focused attention, and creative framing, we can extract the gifts of life: peace, joy, beauty, and the magic of being, from the most mundane activities.

STEP 5: REPEAT
It takes years to bring the mind under control. Expect it to wander from the present moment into its old negative habit patterns. Do not frame this as success and failure, as this will cause frustration and tension. When you go for a ride on the train of thought and find yourself back in a lower state of consciousness, remain kind, compassionate, and gentle with yourself. Stop, breathe, and reenter the moment with the frame of your choice.

STEP 6: ONE CONTINUOUS SACRED RITUAL
With practice, we can become increasingly aware, awake, and attentive in each of the moments of our lives. As our will power and concentration increase, we can begin to string the moments together. By maintaining our focus on what we are doing at all times, we learn to stay in the present more and more, even when life gets rough. We see that we can remain in reality whether it turns good, bad, or ugly.

When we recognize that all we have are these moments, that there is nowhere else to go, we gain strength and peace. When our concentration is highly developed, we can stay in the present and maintain harmony and balance no matter what life does. All of our moments become part of one continuous ritual in response to the truth of life just as it is, with all of its sorrow, beauty, and joy.

When we bring the unruly mind under control through mindfulness, we gain access to the calm witness, the student in school, the actor in the movie, the servant of humanity, and the warrior who is ready for anything. The witness remains even-minded under all conditions. When difficult or painful, life is school. We enter our pain to extract the necessary lessons. When life is entertaining, it is like a movie or a sport. When we frame life as a movie, we are observing the show or acting in a role. This gives us some perspective and protection from over-involvement. Playing with life as though it is a sport or game lightens our burden. We don’t take it so seriously. We are in service when we help others. We feel peace and joy. The warrior is ready for anything. The ritual transforms the ordinary and mundane to sacred and special. When we rotate these frames, life becomes one continuous sacred ritual, offering up its knowledge and lessons, entertainment and joy, and opportunities to love and serve.

BENEFITS FROM THE PRACTICE OF MINDFULNESS

• An all-purpose increase in awareness

• Improves powers of concentration

• Enhances the ability to stay on task

• More present and calm

• Better at listening

• Removes debris and rubbish from our consciousness

• Purification and healing

• Helps us to accept the realities we cannot change

• Helps us get some distance from our trains of thought

• Stops the pursuit of negative thoughts

• More compassion, love, and kindness to the self and others

• Reduces mental restlessness and emotional reactivity

POINTS TO REMEMBER

• We can practice mindfulness anywhere, anytime.

• To be fully aware of all of the elements of our lives, we need to pay attention. We can turn every action into a mindful meditative exercise by giving whatever we are doing our full attention. Mindfulness is a walking meditation, or meditation in action.

• The present moment is both the teacher and the entertainer. There are lessons to be learned and experiences to be enjoyed. Sometimes the lessons are painful. Other experiences are enjoyable and entertaining. Stay alert to get the most out of life, whatever the experience.

• Stay awake and aware in the present moment, since it is in the here and now that life offers up its knowledge and lessons, entertainment and joy, and opportunities to love and serve.

• The mind is geared to deal with the present. The past and future are too much to bear. There is more than enough reality here and now. Why add to the burden by leaning forward into the future or bending backward into the past?

• Mindfulness is an exercise designed to increase our concentration and attention so we can be awake and ready for anything, including work, pain, change, the unknown, or death.

• Highly developed intense concentration in the present moment results in a sense of flow, rhythm, harmony, and balance.

• Mindfulness is a part of the performance of all of the spiritual methods described in this work. Attention, concentration, and awareness are part of all spiritual practice.

• The peace, joy, love, power, and wisdom we are looking for is right here in the moments of our lives. However, we must be awake, aware, and focused; otherwise, restless thoughts, reactive emotions, and excessive desires will take us away.

• Rather than being negative, panicky, or agitated when life gets rough, ride the ups and downs like a rodeo cowboy on a bucking horse. With continued practice of mindfulness, the restless mind, hyperactive emotions, and excessive material desires will not bump you off the horse.

• Be compassionate, yet unencumbered. Give peaceful, joyful, loving service to all of humanity, and enjoy the show. With deep, sustained, long-term practice of mindful service and meditation, our inner space expands so that we can receive the harsh realities of life and maintain perfect peace and poise.

AFFIRMATIONS

• I calmly embrace the present moment.

• I invoke the witness, watching and observing.

• I invoke the witness, still and silent.

• I invoke the witness, patient and breathing.

• I invoke the witness, serene and spacious.

• Compassion is the fire that burns up my problems in the healing furnace inside me.

• By steady absorption in the moment, I get to flow and rhythm.

• I respond to the show with peace and poise.

• I am kind and gentle with myself under all conditions.

• I add love and compassion to every moment of my inner life.

• I receive all events with gentle compassion for myself.

• I live fully in the present.

• I practice the presence of peace.

• I live fully in the present where change and healing occur.

• I am grateful for the blessings of entertainment and joy.

• I am grateful for the blessing of suffering for its cultivation of soul qualities.


EXERCISES

1. What is the difference between ordinary and spiritual consciousness?

2. Describe the six steps of the mindfulness technique.

3. Describe and discuss the six frames of reference listed in step 4 of mindfulness practice.

4. Can you think of any additional frames that might help you?

5. Life is school. How might the practice of mindfulness help you learn the lessons meant for you?

6. Life is entertaining. How might the practice of mindfulness help you enjoy life more than you do now?

7. When completely immersed in the turbulence of ruminative thoughts, feelings, sensations, fantasies, and impulses, remember the witness, that place inside where there is stillness, silence, space, and serenity. When you are in turmoil, try these one-word affirmations:
• Stillness
• Silence
• Spaciousness
• Serenity
This may help you get through difficult times.

8. Be aware of your inner being, your body, and the sights, sounds, and feel of the environment. Look for the positives within yourself and in your present environment.

9. Always practice mindfulness with an attitude of compassion and understanding for yourself. Try this now.

10. To create a healing atmosphere for yourself, affirm Love and kindness. Try this now.

11. Meditation and mindfulness work in tandem. Both techniques reduce the excesses of the mind so it can be in alignment with the higher purposes of the heart and soul. Both techniques require one-pointed concentration. If you practice meditation and mindfulness, you will build a powerful control center at the very core of your being. Events, the doings of other people, and your own reactivity will not ruffle you because you have more space and strength inside. This takes time to develop. Begin your practice now.

12. The Sacred is with you all the time. Relax, open, listen, attune, and receive. Can you feel it?

13. Every action, no matter how mundane, is a part of one uninterrupted holy ritual. Offer every action in service to humanity and God. Then you will have strength, and you will know peace.

Web Site: Mindfulness


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Reviewed by m j hollingshead
enjoyed the read
Reviewed by Lisa Adams
What a great article. Thank you.
Reviewed by Shoma Mittra
This was a hugely informative piece. Hinduism too gives almost the same tenets of living. It si difficult but not impossible to follow such in today's mad rush for instant gratification. If only we could learn something from our ancient wisdom.
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