Mindfulness

Mindfulness of the Body

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In contemporary society we generally have a very dysfunctional relationship with our bodies. We treat our bodies badly, we often eat wrongly, push our bodies excessively, or fail to give our body the degree of care and attention it needs. Addiction is incredibly widespread and nail biting, skin picking, excessive gum chewing, and other nervous habits, are all signs of a dysfunctional connection to the physical environment in which we partake. 
Then, added on to this, we have all of the distorted images of the body given to us by advertising and consumerist culture, by celebrities, comics, and pornography; a mass of illusions of how we are supposed to appear and present ourselves to the world. We often look at our bodies in a very distorted manner, or even refuse to look at our naked form out of fear, or shame. The commodification of the body and the falsification of body images have the function of collectively disassociating people from the simplicity and immediacy of how their bodies really are and how wonderful they are in their diversity. The general obsession with external image often causes us to seek to present our bodies in specific postures, poses and shapes. How often do you either strike a model’s pose when you look at yourself in the mirror, or refuse to look honestly and deeply at your naked body without tightening up or judging it? These are all aspects of the collective baggage that we carry around and filter our perception of our body through.
Because the body is the starting place for mindfulness and because of the complexity of the issues I have just laid out, it is important to realise that mindfulness is a very rich and profound pursuit of re-engaging with experience based on very new rules. Mindfulness is not just being present, but it is also looking deeply at things to see how they really are and how we are relating to them. In this sense it is truly a path of freedom, because if we are brave enough to go all the way with it, it can free us from the mess we are in collectively and individually with regard to our bodies. 
What follows are the seven factors of mindfulness. They immediately illustrate a more complete and holistic picture of deep mindfulness practice. They also show us that mindfulness is not just something you do on a cushion in a safe, quiet space, but is rather an adventure that is embarked on that can result in the radical change and gaining of freedom that I have pointed to in several previous posts. Below is my own non-traditional wording of the seven factors.
Seven factors of Mindfulness
1.      Being present and deeply engaged with what we are doing
2.      Bridging the gap to experience: non-judgement & intimacy
3.      Appreciation for experience: acknowledging & honouring your life as an unfolding process
4.      Relieving of unsatisfactoriness & reducing separation: feeling connected & part of it all
5.      Looking deeply: penetrating experience to see clearly what is real and important, releasing our natural intuitiveness 
6.      Gaining insight & direct understanding through being grounded in experience & fully open
7.      Transformation: growth, healing, opening, freedom

Mindfulness: Introduction

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For this section I have taken inspiration from Thich Nhat Hanh. Hanh is a spokesman and elder of mindfulness; a Vietnamese Zen monk, and international figure in promoting world-peace and civil rights. He was also nominated for the Nobel Peace prize by Martin Luther King and he is probably the world’s most famous Buddhist after the Dalai Lama, although this certainly does not detract from the potency of much of his teaching. At times his works are seemingly geared towards the mass-market, but within his books are many real gems, especially regarding mindfulness, and he has been forthright in transmitting a heartfelt form of Buddhism to a much wider audience whilst making mindfulness popular and accessible to all.
Mindfulness is a rich and varied topic central to the world of Buddhism. It has become increasingly popular and widespread, being incorporated into hospitals, prisons, major businesses such as Google and Apple, and has been implemented in the cure of depression and recognised by the medical establishment for its validity and comparability with antidepressants. Much research has been undertaken on the beneficial effects of mindfulness practice and this has led to a great variety of books being published that extol its virtues, usually aimed at as wide a market as possible.
This is all great news and certainly needs to be commended. It is important though to consider the intent behind this popularisation of meditative technology practice as intent is paramount in shaping the experience of actual practice and the capacity for it to move us in one direction or another. Mindfulness used to manage difficult emotions and feelings, and mindfulness used to help one focus one’s mind in order to work more effectively are not the same as mindfulness used as an ongoing path for liberation, radical freedom and change.
Perhaps it would be useful at this point to make a distinction between Non-Buddhist Mindfulness and Buddhist Mindfulness, between mindfulness stripped of any overt Buddhist leanings, and of mindfulness practised within the Eightfold Path, or any path for that matter, with the intent of waking us up. We can consider the latter as Right Mindfulness for the sake of simplicity and this post.

The Eightfold Path: the Fourth Truth

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The Eightfold Path
The Eightfold path is the Fourth Truth and it features eight arenas of practice. They are all inter-related. They can be followed sequentially if one is so inclined, although each feeds and amplifies the others. They are taught sequentially in order to give a theoretical framework and a direction for developing a practice that involves all areas of our lives. 
The Buddhist path is very often a logical one. It presents a problem, a solution and a systematic model to follow for creating change. In this regard it has a lot in common with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Like CBT it requires effort, consistency and follow-through in applying strategies in order to stimulate real, lasting change. It is not the passive perusing of books, but a hands-on approach to systematically working with how we have constructed our subjective experience of the world and the dismantling of great parts of it in order to give rise to authentic, awakened living. When looking at the eightfold path it’s important to understand that ‘our Eightfold Path’ is both created through volitional action, and met, through discovering a naturally emerging way of living that is in harmony with the flowering of awareness and presence. 
The key to understanding this classic teaching is to view it as an integrated and inclusive model for bringing awareness and presence to multiple arenas and aspects of our lives. It is a reliable basis for starting out and for coming back to when things get a little too confused. It is also a mirror of ideals and the potential present in applying ourselves to this cornerstone of the Buddhist quest. It reminds us that when our general communication is out of step with our aspiration to be a better version of ourselves, it weakens our ability to be present, connected and open. It remind us that our mindfulness is impacted by the way we act and work. The Eightfold Path helps us to appreciate the interdependent nature of human experience and how unconscious behaviour in one area of our lives will have consequences for the others.

The 8 Arenas of the Eightfold Path
1. Right View: our general outlook, core beliefs, ideas about ourself and the world
2. Right Intention: decision making, intending, choices
3. Right Speech: our general communication, how we use language
4. Right Action: our behaviour, both habitual and impulsive
5. Right Livelihood: our job, way of working
6. Right Effort: how we use our energies, how we apply ourselves
7. Right Mindfulness: how present we are and connected to experience, authenticity, meditation
8. Right Concentration: gaining insight, wisdom, mental discipline, understanding