In the last teaching we heard about the importance of developing mindfulness and how it can transform our lives.
Our development of mindfulness should begin with the body. If we can establish this well then we will find we’ll be able to be mindful of our thoughts and feelings much more easily. It’s as if mindfulness of the body is base camp. It’s where we can come back to, to stabilise our mindfulness. Once we are experts in being mindful of the body we’ll be able to live comfortably on the motorway of mind, watching the traffic come and go without being run over. Therefore we must train ourselves to be mindful of the body.
It’s like a football player who has to train himself well if he wants to score goals and beat the opposition. If he sits around all day eating hot-dogs and doughnuts he’s barely going to be able to reach his shoe laces, let alone play football.
Our mindfulness of the body is like this. We need to make sure that we train it. If we’re going to be any match for the opposition we need to be in good form. And what’s the opposition? All those things that keep running us over and ruin our lives: our moods and emotions, our negative thought patterns, and all the rest. To deal with them the mind needs to be fit. If we don’t train our mindfulness we’ll be like that footballer who eats doughnuts all day and then finds himself on the pitch against Manchester United.
The First Foundation of Mindfulness
The Buddha taught the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. This is perhaps one of the most important teachings in the Buddhist Scriptures. The four foundations are: 1. Mindfulness of the Body; 2. Mindfulness of Feelings; 3. Mindfulness of Mind; and 4. Mindfulness of Dhamma. Our development of mindfulness can begin with the body as it’s the most obvious thing about ourselves and therefore the easiest thing to be aware of. We can see it, we can feel it, we can hear it (!), and we can smell it (!!).
So mindfulness of the body is the First Foundation of Mindfulness. We need to train it; we need to develop it. The Buddha taught us to be mindful of the body in the following ways: being mindful of the breath; being mindful of our postures; being mindful of our movements; being mindful of the nature of the body; and being mindful of the fact that it’s going to die. These are the ways that the Buddha taught us to be mindful of the body. For now let’s look closely at mindfulness of our movements. The Buddha called this ‘Mindfulness and Clear Comprehension’. This means that we train ourselves to be aware of what we are actually doing NOW. What are you doing now? What position is your body in? Is your back straight? Are you frowning. Just be aware of the body. Being mindful in this way creates a real refuge for the mind.
In a galaxy far, far away
Most of us when we haven’t heard about mindfulness tend to be experts in mindlessness! So what is mindlessness? Say you’re walking down the High Street, past Marks & Spencer and Boots, on your way to your favourite shop. As you are walking there’s a pretty good chance your mind is already at your destination: it’s chosen the new handbag or the new jacket and it’s already waiting at the checkout, waiting for you to hurry up: “Come on!”, it says, “I haven’t got all day!”. So as we go about our daily activities our mind is often in a galaxy far, far away. This is mindlessness; we are not in the present moment; we are not aware of what we are doing as we are doing it. Without mindfulness of the body we are without a refuge.
When we are mindful of the body, however, then we feel at ease. This is a very important thing to develop. If we are well practised in this mindfulness of the body we will be able to stabilise ourselves no matter what’s happening. The mind has a place to anchor itself. We develop mindfulness of the body to keep us in touch with the present. When this awarenss of the body is established we create a forcefield of calm and stability around ourselves. We are confident and collected even as the world around us is going mad (which of course it is).
The Buddha gave a very famous teaching where he said that: “When walking, just walk; when sitting; just sit; when standing, just stand; and when lying down, just lie down.” So simple, yet so difficult. So easy to grasp, yet so profound.
Set up exercises
So we need to train our mindfulness of the body. Obviously in our busy lives this can be difficult. But just set yourself little exercises in mindfulness. When I was a lay-man I used to have a really good little exercise. I used to take the glasses from the dishwasher and place them on the side beneath the cupboard where they lived. Then I would determine to put each glass away without making a sound. It was a real challenge. But it made me so mindful. I had to slow right down and be so aware of what I was doing if I was to succeed. Just five minutes of doing something like this makes such a difference to the quality of our life. Mindfulness is not boring. We can gain a refined, wholesome pleasure from everything we do if we are 100% there as we do it. Even opening a door can be an incredibly rewarding experience.
So try to be mindful of the body. Keep your mind in harmony with your actions as much as you can. Set up at least one exercise a day to help you cultivate mindfulness, as I did with the glasses. So when you are making the tea, do each acion twice as slowly, and try not to make a noise. Or folding the tea towels…. Anything. Slow down and be aware.
The next teaching will hopefully be on the Full Moon Day, Tuesday, 22nd January.