Mindwithness

practice 3Mindwithness!

The Pali word for mindfulness is sati (Sanskrit: smrti). Although the term ‘mindfulness’ is the most popular rendition of sati, the word sati actually means ‘to remember’ (i.e., ‘to remember’ to be aware of the present moment). In fact, the term mindfulness doesn’t really capture the full intended meaning of sati. The main reason for this is because to be ‘mindful’ indicates that one should be ‘full of mind’. Being full of mind implies that there is a lot of mental activity and cognitive exertion. However, when we practice mindfulness, we’re not aiming to fill ourselves up with too much mind. Having our minds full-up all of the time becomes very stressful and tiring. Too many people have their minds full-up. If our minds are too full then there is no room for wholesome thoughts to grow and flourish. In a full mind there is no space for simply being, and there is no emptiness to nurture and refresh our being.

Therefore, rather than endeavouring to remain mindful, perhaps the meditation practitioner should actually be trying to achieve a state of ‘mindlessness’. However, being ‘mindless’ equally doesn’t quite capture the essence of sati because rather than being without the mind, what we are attempting to achieve during sati practice is to be fully ‘with the mind’. Perhaps ‘mindwithness’ is therefore a better term to describe the practice of sati!

Nowadays, more and more people are becoming interested in the practice of mindfulness and people are beginning to make a living from teaching mindfulness. From one point of view, this could be a good thing. If people are truly living meditatively then it will certainly be beneficial for the individual as well as for society as a whole. However, from another point of view, trying too hard to ‘spread’ the teachings of mindfulness may actually contribute to the decline of the Buddhist teachings.

Let us give an example to explain what we mean by this. Recently, we were giving a series of talks about meditation and Buddhism in India. It just so happened that at one of the conference venues, a mindfulness and yoga retreat was also taking place. It was really easy to identify which people were involved in the retreat because, with the exception of just one or two participants, they all behaved in a similar way. The retreat participants would walk around the grounds with an air of superiority, with their hands cupped together and held in front of them, head half bent to the side, and with a ‘holier than thou’ smile permanently fixed across their faces. The only exception to this behaviour was when they thought they were out of public view and would slouch around or gossip about their fellow participants.

Mindfulness practice should enable us to become more familiar with the chaotic and unruly nature of the untamed mind. The idea is that we begin to appreciate just how much ego is involved in each and every one of our thoughts and perceptions. It’s when we begin to become aware of the extent to which ego has overwhelmed the mind that we can take steps to loosen ego’s hold. Effectively then, the practice that the abovementioned retreat participants were making was just for show. They were trying to be fashionable and keep-up with the latest spiritual trend. Indeed, for these people, rather than a means of spiritual development, their (so called) practice of ‘mindfulness’ was actually acting as an obstacle to spiritual growth. Their practice was reinforcing the ego rather than dismantling it.

So we should definitely try to be natural in our practice of mindfulness. We should try to be honest with ourselves and check to see whether we are the type of person who varies their practice depending on who might be looking. It is also useful for us to check whether we are straining too hard to be mindful. Indeed, rather than straining too hard, we should try to adopt a relaxed and spacious approach. Using your breath as an anchor if you like, try to expand your mindful awareness so that it encompasses the entire present moment. Try and make the ‘here and now’ your object of meditation. Whatever is happening right now – that becomes your practice. This includes external phenomena such as sounds and sights, as well as internal noumina such as thoughts and feelings. Effortlessly incorporate them all into your field of awareness – without any separation between you the observer and the object that you are observing. In other words, rather than trying to remain aware of the present moment, just try to simply be the present moment.

Ven Edo Shonin and Ven William Van Gordon

Author: Dr Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Dr Edo Shonin Dr Edo Shonin is research director of the Awake to Wisdom Centre for Meditation and Mindfulness Research, and a chartered psychologist at the Nottingham Trent University (UK). He sits on the editorial board for the academic journal Mindfulness and the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. Edo is internationally recognised as a leading authority in mindfulness practice and research and has over 100 academic publications relating to the scientific study of meditation and Buddhist practice. He is the author of ‘The Mindful Warrior: The Path to Wellbeing, Wisdom and Awareness’ and primary editor of academic volumes on ‘The Buddhist Foundations of Mindfulness’ and ‘Mindfulness and Buddhist-derived Approaches in Mental Health and Addiction’. He has been a Buddhist monk for thirty years and is spiritual director of the international Mahayana Bodhayati School of Buddhism. He has also received the higher ordination in the Theravada Buddhist tradition. Edo regularly receives invitations to give keynote speeches, lectures, retreats and workshops at a range of academic and non-academic venues all over the world. Ven William Van Gordon Ven William Van Gordon has been a Buddhist monk for almost ten years. He is co-founder of the Awake to Wisdom Centre for Meditation, Mindfulness, and Psychological Wellbeing and the Mahayana Bodhayati School of Buddhism. He has been ordained within Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana Buddhist traditions and has extensive training in all aspects of Buddhist practice, psychology, and philosophy. Prior to becoming a Buddhist monk, Ven William Van Gordon worked for various blue chip companies including Marconi Plc, PepsiCo International, and Aldi Stores Limited where he worked as an Area Manager responsible for a multi-site £28 million portfolio of supermarkets with over 50 employees. Ven William Van Gordon is also a research psychologist and forms part of the Psychological Wellbeing and Mental Health Research Unit, Psychology Division, Nottingham Trent University. His area of research expertise is the study of ‘authentic spiritual transmission’ – within mainstream Buddhism itself as well as within contemporary Buddhist-derived clinical interventions. His current research projects are concerned with evaluating the effectiveness of meditation and mindfulness for the treatment of various health conditions. Ven William Van Gordon has numerous publications relating to the clinical utility of meditative interventions including in leading peer-reviewed psychology journals. As a separate undertaking, William is currently writing-up his doctoral thesis which relates to the effects of meditation on work-related wellbeing and performance. Ven William Van Gordon enjoys fell running, martial arts, DIY, reading and writing poetry, caring for cancer patients, and studying civil litigation. He is a keen mountaineer with some arctic expedition experience.

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