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Mindfulness Meditation

June 24, 2019


Today I want to unpack: what is mindfulness meditation? Quite the buzzword. So we're going to unpack and see all the different facets of what mindfulness meditation really is. I'm going to use as a basis the definition of Jon Kabat-Zinn because it has all the crucial elements and that is: paying attention to the present moment on purpose, non-judgmentally. Let's first look at paying attention. When most people think of meditation, they think of paying attention, so it's kind of obvious, but it's actually very hard to do. How many times during the day are we actually paying attention to what we're doing? How many times do we actually taste our food? How many times are we touching something and we're actually noticing it, right? So there's that quick great quote (I believe it's Da Vinci) where he says "We look, but we don't see. We touch, but we don't feel. We listen, but we don't hear." Mindfulness is bringing this attentional value to what is actually happening. So we're paying attention and what are we paying attention to again? The present moment. And this is what separates out mindfulness from a lot of different other meditation techniques. So many people ask what makes mindfulness different than other meditation techniques? And it's this actual aspect right here - about paying attention as an anchor of focus to the present moment. So other meditation techniques generate an object and then focus on that object. For example, like a mantra meditation. So you generate a mantra and then you're focusing on the mantra. Or a visualization technique. So you set up something to visualize and then you are meditating on that visualization or the meditation becomes the actual progress of making that visualization. Now with mindfulness, you're meditating on just what's arising in this moment itself. So it's kind of cutting out the middle man there - like, you don't need to generate anything. But more importantly, it's extremely portable. So it might be very difficult to be doing an elaborate visualization or a mantra practice while at work for example, or while you're arguing with a loved one. But we can actually be practicing mindfulness in those instances. Again, paying attention to the present moment on purpose, non-judgmentally. And also, too, when we're meditating (just on the moment) it becomes extremely flexible and there's no such thing as distraction in mindfulness practice as well. So in Tibetan they call this "the yoga of space", which I really like that terminology. And what they mean by that is in some of our meditation practices, it's kind of like building a house, right? So we have a foundation, we have walls, we have a roof, and this is setting up all the parameters of how the environment needs to be before meditation actually takes place. But if I was to light off a stick a dynamite in the house, what's going to happen? It's going to explode, right? So this will be like: "okay, I'm meditating on this one object out in front of me and I'm going to tell all my family members to shut up and be quiet - I'm trying to find peace." Right? But all those factors have to be in place - like turn off your phone, all that stuff. And then sometimes let's say outside of the door and the kids start crying and things like this, and they're basically blowing up your house of meditation - they're destroying your meditation. The other way to practice is meditating like space. So if I were to light up a stick of dynamite in space, what happens? Well, nothing, because there's nothing to blow up. So how does this look in mindfulness meditation? It looks just like this: Let's say that I'm focusing on the breath. So my mind wanders and I bring it back to the breath. My mind wanders and I bring it back to the breath. And then all of a sudden my neighbor's dog starts to bark. Now I have stress because stress has two opposing forces: how something is and how I want it to be. And in that moment, how I want it to be is I want my mind here on my breath but my neighbor's dog is barking. So what do I do? Well, the neighbor's dog barking is actually arising in the present moment. So I simply turn towards the dog barking and I make that my object of my meditation. So I essentially do "dog barking meditation." Now mindfulness needs to be mindful of something, but it doesn't matter what. So the continuity of mindfulness was sustained the entire time. I never lost my mindfulness. I was always awake and aware. I'm awake and aware of my abdomen and then I was awake and aware of the dog barking and I'm also awake in a certain flavor, which we're going to unpack just in a couple more elements here, which is non-judgmentally. So I'm moving my non-judgmental awareness from my breath to this dog barking. Now if I look a dog barking is just energy, right? Without any labels, right? It's just a vibration of energy. We call it sound and we could label it dog barking and then we can label it a nuisance and see now we're off in distressful thinking. Instead of just looking at it just as something that's simply arising in my awareness, I'm just simply noticing it. So the next piece, paying attention to the present moment on purpose. Personally, this is my favorite piece of the definition: on purpose. So what does this mean? So if I would take a dog and I give the dog a treat and I tell the dog to sit and stay, that dog is going to be like a zen master, like totally incredible, right? Amazing concentration, right? So we could say, "hey, that's it. That's what we want to do. Be just like the dog." But the dog is not necessarily conscious of consciousness. It's not necessarily doing it on purpose. It's doing it out of habit - something very primal, right? It's looking at that food, it wants the food. It has a high degree of concentration, but not exactly on purpose. A similar analogy would be if you heard maybe like a car accident or something outside of your outside of your house. You might run to the window and look out and you're paying attention, but you're not necessarily doing it on purpose. In fact, there might be a lot of things around you that you are completely unaware of - so you're not awake and aware, although you're paying attention, right? But not on purpose. So paying attention to the present moment on purpose. Now, here's something that's a little bit more subtle, but another reason why I like this aspect of the definition is that what shows up when we're practicing on purpose is the exact thing that we're trying to marinate in during meditation. And like I said, this might sound a little abstract right now, but most of the time we're actually self-identifying with the contents of our awareness - so with the thoughts, emotions, sensation, external stimuli - and we're not aware of the knower of those things. So the knower of what is looking at those things is awakened when we pay attention on purpose. Now there is a knower and what is known, and this we might cover in different videos, but it is important to note that we're not all exactly what's arising, but when we're meditating, we get to have a choice and this is actually a very not so abstract part of meditation or mindfulness is that we're recognizing that there's stimulus and in that recognition that there's some kind of stimulus arising (it could be a thought, emotion, it can be anger.) Now by noticing this, we notice that we have a choice. We could follow that emotion or we could actually let it go, or we could create a new right action instead of an habitual action. So paying attention to the present moment on purpose. Now the final piece is really the kicker. This one's more difficult. This is non-judgmentally. In my opinion, this is why we all don't practice mindfulness all the time is because this non-judgmental aspect is very difficult to do. So a lot of things that we experience are uncomfortable and to be with them non-judgmentally is something that we really haven't been taught how to do. Take, for example, you're driving to work and a memory comes up into your awareness and it's uncomfortable. Being that you're not even aware of it, you move towards your radio dial and you turn on your radio and then you distract yourself away from this uncomfortable something that's happening. This is our normal reaction. So when something arises, we usually label it right away: this is good, this is bad, this is pleasant, this is not, and if something is neutral, we usually don't like this. Usually we label this boredom, but I like to say: don't confuse boredom with peace, right? When something's neutral, maybe there is actually a moment of stillness and even with a moment of stillness, we don't know what to do with that because we're not used to it. So usually we want this rollercoaster, right? We want this rollercoaster of really good and really bad. So mindfulness is just being with what is as it is, allowing things to come, allowing things to go - just as they are, with non-judgmental awareness. Not good, not bad. Now this is the definition of mindfulness: paying attention to the present moment on purpose, non-judgmentally. Now is this mindfulness? No, it's not. Mindfulness is your experience of the definition. Really important to remember. True mindfulness is your experience of the definition. This is an experiential practice. This is not something intellectual or conceptual that could just stay up here. For example, like if your friend went on vacation to Italy and she came back from that vacation from Italy and told you all about Italy, would you really know what Italy felt like? What it's like to really be there? No, you'd have to go yourself. Mindful meditation is just like this. You're going to have to actually try this on. True mindful meditation, you really can't describe. Just like this, it's real. It's a real experience, but you can't verbalize it, like you can't verbalize falling in love. If you're moved by a work of art, you're truly moved by this, but you can't truly explain it. It's like that. This definition that I just unpacked is just an entry point. It's just an invitation for you to move in and practice this yourself so you can feel what it's like to be with stimulus but not follow it, to be with what is arising in your life, but have the choice, the ability to choose what you want to think about and what you want to let go. This is the freedom that mindfulness brings. What you want to nurture and enhance and what you want to let be - this is your choice. There's a wonderful saying that the mind is a horrible master but a wonderful servant. But usually, it's the other way around. Usually, we wake up in the morning and we ask the mind how we're doing. We'll say, "how am I doing, mind?" You wake up and if the mind has negative thoughts, let's say thoughts of sadness or anger, we think, "oh, I'm angry." And we ask the mind, "how long do I have to be angry or sad?" And if it says all day, then you're angry all day. But we could shift this. We can become the master of our minds. We don't need to self-identify with what's arising. We can notice what's arising with non-judgmental awareness and we become the knower and not what's known, moment to moment. This is true liberation. This is true freedom.

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