“The most important thing determining the quality of your life is your mind and your own ability to master your mind.”
The super-education in mind begins when your creativity flows inward into the subtlest recesses of your mind. This can be called “mindfulness,” forms of which have become extraordinarily popular around the world. The English “mindfulness” comes from the Sanskrit smṛti (Pali, sati), which actually means “memory.” Among the eight branches of the path, it is the seventh, the beginning of the third super-education, the super-education in concentration (samādhi) or mind (citta). Realistic remembering and realistic concentration make up that third super-education, with what we discussed in the last chapter, realistic creativity, as the spark.
Together they parallel the fifth of the six transcendent virtues, contemplation (Sanskrit dhyāna, Chinese ch’an, Korean son, Japanese zen), which partners with the sixth and most important transcendent virtue, wisdom (prajñā).
The transformative intellectual wisdom attained by analytic meditation (vipashyana, vipassana) cannot drill down far enough to change unconscious, misknowing habit-patterns without the energy-focusing of concentration, contemplation, nondiscursive meditation, or realization (Sanskrit: samādhi, dhyāna, shamatha, and bhāvana).
Usually our constant stream of “remembering” gets stuck in the past as we go into reveries in our memories of what happened to us at this or that time, and the same type of mental scattering occurs in anticipating things, where we imagine things that might happen in the future—we “remember” the future. When we take focus away from remembering the past and anticipating the future, we can “remember” to be more and more aware and mindful of what is going on in the present. When we do this, indeed, we can gradually become lucidly aware.
[Dive into lucid dreaming, read: “Aware and Asleep.”]
To look at it from a different perspective, we use a term—lucid dreaming—when we have learned to be self-aware during dreams without waking up. When we gain skill in mindful awareness during our waking hours, we are developing “lucid waking,” finding much more vivid detail in every moment. If we take stock of how we spend our time, doing things while our mind multitasks and thinks about other things, scattering itself around, we are hardly aware of what we’re actually doing in the moment; that could be called “mindless waking” or “sleep-waking.”
There are traditionally four focuses of mindfulness, of “remembering the present”:
- Remembering the body
- Remembering the physical and mental sensations
- Remembering the mind
- Remembering mental objects
You can practice a first round just to become aware of them, without looking right away at their nature. Once you become lucid about what is there, you discover that the body is funky, the sensations are mostly stressful, the mind is ever-changing and actually unfindable, and mental objects are coreless, insubstantial, illusory, and relative. “Realistic mindfulness” constantly looks realistically with the inner eye at body, sensations, mind, and objects.
Popularly in the West people think of “mindfulness” as being mainly one aspect of the mindfulness of the body, which is mindfulness of the breath, breath being considered the bridge between mind and body. So when you first do mindfulness practice, you get a little nervous because you realize there’s a whole cacophony going on inside your mind. But then once you get to see it more comprehensively, and you can move around among your thoughts, you develop a little bit of critical awareness, and you can change channels. You have a sort of clicker. You finally get a remote control in your own mind and you can click from one channel to another. You can look at it from another angle and get another perspective on it. And you can be more free about your reactivity. When someone presses your button, you can either react or not react because you’re not a slave of that thought. You can shift away from it.
Mindfulness is a technique developed by centuries of mind science in practice. The most important thing determining the quality of your life is your mind and your own ability to master your mind. You can be in the best environment and something bothers you emotionally and you’re miserable. You can be pretty happy even in adversity. Mindfulness gives you a much bigger range of choice and an ability to create gaps and pause your reactions so you can choose to move this way or that way. It’s really very important.
The Buddha’s Therapeutic Protocol
As we explore the four focuses of mindfulness, it’s worth pointing out that the four noble truths are not a religious credo or prescription for conversion but a clear-cut psychotherapeutic protocol for pragmatic, psychosomatic therapy, designed to lead people out of suffering to enjoy the nirvanic reality of the world. It is intended not merely to annihilate them or to cause them to resign themselves to their misery but to bring them to bliss. Freud said his psychotherapy was designed to lead people from neurotic suffering into acceptance of regular suffering, not because he was being stingy with them but because he had no idea that there was such a thing as fully blissful living (although maybe he thought he knew about it when he was high on cocaine, writing some of his great books!). Buddha was way ahead of his time in providing a path beyond suffering altogether.
Keep reading in Robert Thurman’s Wisdom Is Bliss: Four Friendly Fun Facts That Can Change Your Life.
Excerpted with permission from Wisdom Is Bliss: Four Friendly Fun Facts That Can Change Your Life by Robert Thurman (Hay House, Inc.). The book is available everywhere books are sold.