Mindfulness Principles

What are the building blocks of a well rounded mindfulness practice? Here is a list of what I call "working definitions" of basic principles in the dharma. Because mindfulness does not have one over-arching authority like some organized religions, it can be hard to know what's what. As well, any definition of a mindfulness principle will mean different things based on a meditator's experience. For this reason, I'm putting together a list of practice principles in the form of short, practical "working definitions." Each one of these practices are nuanced and complicated and it is intended here that you explore, experience and learn these nuances through your own practice.

Change or impermanence

The first principle is everything is constantly changing. We meditate mindfully to deepen our understanding of the change principle. Once we recognize so much change, we can see the instability in life. From here, the ego or identity kicks in and tries to stop change from happening through craving, aversion or delusion. These three elements are called clinging. The way out of this cycle is to reduce the ego/identity as much as possible. In this way, life keeps happening and we can experience it directly without the ego/identity interfering with reality.

Suffering: clinging - craving, aversion and distraction

Suffering can be broken down into clinging. And clinging can be broken down into three forms: craving, aversion and distraction. Or in more extreme examples: greed, hated and delusion. In lighter terms, craving, aversion and distraction can be characterized as vague unsatisfactoriness with whatever is happening. These more subtle states can predominate life without us even noticing it, but if we look we can sense it.

Bare attention: "don't cling or attach"

We generally always have attention. Our minds are usually "on" and have something that we're "paying attention" too. Mindfully we want to pay attention to the bare facts of the emotion, thought or sensation without embellishing or making more of a story of it. We note where our attention is, such as "I'm thinking." "I'm feeling" "I'm noticing a tingling sensation." Bare attention does not add to the thought or feeling. In this way we are not attaching to what we're attending to. We are also less likely to cling to it.

It should be noted though, paying attention to healthy thoughts and emotions is not a form of attaching. You can have a preference for these healthy experiences as long as your attention does not change from noting to clinging. For example, you can note warmth and tenderness, but when your noting turns into "I have to have this warmth and tenderness" it becomes clinging and problems will likely arise down the road.

Noting constant change: the rise and fall

The purpose of noting your thoughts, emotions and sensations is to realize how much change is happening. With bare attention, you note the facts of the experience without embellishing them. This permits you to witness the rise and fall of the inner and outer workings of life. Change is understood as a feeling rising into your awareness and falling or diminishing right before your eyes. Each time you experience a thought or feeling diminishing you can attest to constant change.

Because everything is changing, you might as well relax and let it happen. This means not getting your ego involved in trying to stop or control change. By letting go of your desire to control, you can encounter a greater sense of calm and ease no matter what is happening in your life.

Reducing the ego: "not self"

When we reduce the role of the ego, we have less "self" involved. In other words, if my lower back is tight then I note "there is tightness" versus "I am tight." The statement "I am tight" merges my identity or ego with the tightness in my lower back. The two become one: I am the tightness in my lower back. If I am experiencing anger and my ego kicks in, then "I am angry" can soon become "I am anger." Clearly being the emotion in this situation usually isn't helpful. In mindfulness terms, we refer to "not self" by meaning there are emotions present, but I am NOT that. Anger is not what I am, this emotion in not what I consider to be me, to be myself. Therefore whatever I am experiencing is not myself. Not self. 

 

Not self still means there is a person present with attention on an experience. It's just that we are relating to that experience from the point of view that what's happening isn't tied to my identity, ego or self.

 

This tricky perspective leads us to have greater ease with whatever is happening. Our identities aren't involved so we can more easily "let go" of what's happening and just observe it. This way of living creates a lot of ease and contentment. 

Change or impermanence

The first principle is everything is constantly changing. We meditate mindfully to deepen our understanding of the change principle. Once we recognize so much change, we can see the instability in life. From here, the ego or identity kicks in and tries to stop change from happening through craving, aversion or delusion. When these three elements are called clinging. The way out of this cycle is to reduce the ego/identity as much as possible. In this way, life keeps happening and we can experience it directly without the ego/identity interfering with reality.

Change or impermanence

The first principle is everything is constantly changing. We meditate mindfully to deepen our understanding of the change principle. Once we recognize so much change, we can see the instability in life. From here, the ego or identity kicks in and tries to stop change from happening through craving, aversion or delusion. When these three elements are called clinging. The way out of this cycle is to reduce the ego/identity as much as possible. In this way, life keeps happening and we can experience it directly without the ego/identity interfering with reality.

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© 2018 by James Lowe