Before the Buddha died he said "take refuge in no one but yourself,” but it is far too common in the western world to see people taking refuge in anything but themselves. We are created by our choices, we are not victims, but creators, in this moment we always have choice, if we make bad choices we suffer sooner or later, if we continually think bad thoughts, our life becomes bad.
We are all victims of our ideas, conditioned by them to think this is good and this bad. The trick is knowing what will actually make us happier, freer and more peaceful, what will relieve the difficulties of our friends and parents, and when do we stop and head in the other direction. Money, sex, food, sleep, status and power are the great seduces, they hide away like undercover agents in our minds as thoughts. Behind the thought we need to see the craving, greed, fear, anger, anxiety and take care of that, by practising mindful breathing, sitting and walking – by practising mindful living.
We need to be wary of telling people to follow their hearts; we need to train our hearts, not follow them, the only thing we should learn to follow is our breath. Our breath can teach us more than we could ever explain with words, by holding onto the idea that something outside of us will make us happy we become a puppet to external conditions.
This is mindfulness in a nutshell, realising we need to take refuge in ourselves and making the decision to look deeper into our thoughts, cravings and anxieties in order to gain greater clarity and make us happier, freer and more peaceful. When we find an anchor in our breath we no longer need to look outside for answers and as a result we can become in greater control of our own lives. After all, mindfulness is awareness and concentration; it is paying attention to ourselves and everything around us.
The more mindfulness becomes the centre of the western world the better it will be for all of our lives. Depression is one of the most common conditions in young people in the western world and with the fast pace of this modern world we live in, it seems unless something is done, we will only continue to see more and more people depressed.
Jon Kabat – Zinn has had great success in bringing mindfulness into the mainstream. Today doctors and psychologists all over the world are seeing the benefits mindfulness can have on their patients, and mindfulness is standing alongside traditional medication as a legitimate avenue for the treatment of many mental illnesses. In Kabat – Zinn’s book titled Full Catastrophe Living he talks about some of the lessons of mindfulness, “Learning how to stop all you’re doing and shift over to being mode, learning how to make time for yourself, how to slow down and nurture calmness and self -acceptance in yourself. Learning to observe what your own mind is up to from moment to moment, how to watch your thoughts and how to let go of them without getting so caught up and driven by them, how to make room for new ways of seeing old problems and for perceiving the interconnectedness of things”. If we could all master these lessons we will most certainly give ourselves greater freedom to find joy in the simple things, and in turn create greater happiness, not just for ourselves but everyone around us- our family, friends, students and neighbours.
Mindfulness is not some abstract spiritual thing that belongs in the east or among yogis and the spiritually inclined only, it is something we can all find beneficial in helping us transform our suffering into happiness. Mindfulness is breathing, and Thich Nhat Hanh says the “breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.” We all make choices, and a lot of the time we make these choices based on our judgements and thoughts which stem from our fear or anxiety. Living with awareness allows us to gain clarity and see exactly where these feelings are born, mindfulness gives us a chance to let go of these unfruitful feelings before we get caught up in them and they cause damage, over and over again.
In Full Catastrophe Living Kabat – Zinn writes about the elements which make up the foundations of mindfulness practice, including non-judging, patience, beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance, letting go and commitment, self-discipline and intentionality. These foundations are not only necessary components of mindfulness but necessary components of life.
We get caught up in our ideas, we tend to have labels for everything and everyone, each thought that enters our head is built up of preconceived ideas and judgements, like in mindfulness and life, if we learnt to live in a way where non – judging wasn’t so prevalent, we would be able to be more at ease and at peace with ourselves whilst also opening ourselves up to new experiences. If we developed patience to stop and take the time to relax, breathe and recompose, we could let things happen in their own time, we wouldn’t be rushing off in a thousand different directions and we could act in a more authentic way instead of merely out of fear and anxiety.
All of our ideas and thoughts lead us to behave and act in certain ways, our past experiences tell us we know everything and this stifles our creativity and imagination. If we learnt to live with a beginners mind not only would we not be stuck in our ways, but we would open ourselves up to new opportunities in the present moment, trusting it, without always trying to control it. We so easily get caught up in striving, but too often than not this means we find ourselves in the tomorrow’s and we miss out on the today’s, we always look ahead letting our fears dictate terms. Everything we do is for a purpose, an aim, a goal. We find ourselves always doing but never just being, non-striving allows us to just be where we are.
We need to accept and let go, accept things as they are and not how we want them to be or how we pretend they are. Acceptance allows us to really connect with the present moment, and by accepting each moment as it really is we see with greater clarity - without the weight of our fears, anxieties and desires strapping us down. Thich Nhat Hanh says, “In mindfulness one is not only restful and happy, but alert and awake. Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality,” with commitment, self-discipline and intentionality our mindfulness practice and our lives both benefit considerably. We can fail to recognise all the stress, strain, tension, and anxieties that wreak havoc on our bodies all day, and how the ability to have awareness and to simply come back to our breathing is a critical tool for our happiness.
We don’t seem to appreciate the strength of concentration, it isn’t the valued commodity it should be. In the fast pace of the modern world we are always running from one task to the other and a lot of the times whilst we are still working on one project are mind is trying to work on another, the result being we do two half jobs rather than one to perfection. We are never taught how to concentrate growing up in schools; the lesson rarely goes further than the teacher saying “concentrate”, but how?
When our mind starts to quiet through learning the tools of mindfulness and becoming aware of our body and the things around us, it is natural that our concentration grows too. A concentrated mind is a powerful mind and it is surprising to see how it transfers into all aspects of life, from reading a book to listening deeply to a conversation. It even follows us into our physical health. When our mind is roaming free all day with no control whatsoever we let it fool us and distract us time and time again. In this way concentration is like a leash for our mind, keeping it under control and obedient and not giving it too much room to move as it wishes.
It is paramount that we develop the tools necessary to allow ourselves to better manage our thoughts and feelings, because we all have times when we are overwhelmed and feel under great pressure. If our minds are constantly wandering not only do we lose touch with reality but we lose energy fighting the constant bombardment of noise, this leads to negativity and a killing of our zest, passion, drive and positivity. By learning how to calm our mind and our bodies we find a tool that we can use through any storm or crisis, this can help restore perspective so we make decisions that are closer to our true self and not out of confusion and dispersion. Thick Nhat Hanh says, “Mindfulness is the miracle which can call back in a flash our dispersed mind and restore it to wholeness so that we can live each minute of life.”
By Evan Sutter