First Chapter Section 8
Eastern Mindfulness (Tools: Bare Attention; Insights; Concentration)
Spiritual meditation is an effective exercise or practice in achieving mindfulness and awareness. It is an effective procedure in which the unhealthy ego is eradicated by the gaze of mindfulness and bare attention. One of the most effective way to achieve mindfulness is to treat consciousness itself as the subject of meditation. Then, as mindfulness and bare attention watch the unhealthy ego function and do its damage, it penetrates to the roots and the mechanics of negativity and extinguishes it piece by piece.
Negativity and self deprecation are the prime manifestations of the unhealthy ego process. The meditation tradition has developed a useful tool that will allow you to remove these barriers from your mind at least temporarily so that you can get on with the job of removing their roots permanently. In essence, you can balance a negative emotion by instilling a positive one. Positivism and self confidence are the opposite of negativity and self deprecation. Benevolence is the opposite of hatred. You start out by banishing thoughts of self-hatred and self-condemnation. You allow good feelings and good wishes first to flow to yourself.
Then, when mindfulness has penetrated to the roots of the negative ego, true generosity arises. Achieving mindfulness through spiritual meditation also allows you to see the mind in its anxieties and fears. This awareness through mindfulness and meditation let you become kind, and compassionate. When our actions are motivated by mindfulness, compassion, generosity, love or wisdom, the results are happiness and peace.
Nyanaponika Thera says:
Mindfulness, then, is the unfailing master key for knowing the mind, and is thus the starting point; the perfect tool for shaping the mind, and is thus the focal point.
Mindfulness, though so highly praised and capable of such great achievements, is not at all a ‘mystical’ state, beyond the reach of the average person. It is, on the contrary, something quite simple and common, and very familiar to us. In its elementary manifestation, known under the term ‘attention’, it is one of the cardinal functions of consciousness without which there cannot be perception of any object at all.
Bare attention is one of the fundamental factors of Mindfulness. Bare Attention is the clear and single-minded awareness of what actually happens to us and in us, at the successive moments of perception.
Bare Attention first allows things to speak for themselves, without interruption by final verdicts pronounced too hastily. Bare Attention gives them a chance to finish their speaking.
Because Bare Attention sees things without the narrowing and leveling effect of habitual judgments, it sees them ever anew, as if for the first time; therefore it will happen with progressive frequency that things will have something new and worth while to reveal.
There is a Zen story about living in the moment. Two monks were returning home in the evening to their temple. It had been raining and the road was very muddy. They came to an intersection where a beautiful girl was standing, unable to cross the street because of the mud. Just in the moment, the first monk picked her up in his arms and carried her across. The monk then continued on their way. Later that night the second monk, unable to restrain himself any longer, said to the first, "How could you do that?! We monks should not even look at females, much less touch them. Especially young and the beautiful ones." "I left the girl there," the first monk said, "are you still carrying her?"
Here is another one. There is a story about a monk who had been studying and practicing Zen for 7 years before meeting his Zen master. It was raining and as he went in the door, he left his shoes and umbrella outside. After he paid his respects to his master, the master asked him on which side of his shoes he had left his umbrella. Sadly he could not remember. It is said that the student went away for seven more years to perfect his moment to moment Zen.
When mindfulness and concentration are both developed, a balance of mind is achieved, and a profound listening occurs. A deep and penetrating awareness develops and reveals many aspects of who we are. As the mind becomes silent and we become more finely aware, is that many of the things which were below our normal threshold of awareness, much of what is called subconscious material, becomes illuminated by mindfulness. We begin to observe what was formerly subconscious conditioning, and through the awareness of it, begin to integrate it more fully in our mind.
There is a famous parable in the Republic of Plato about a cave. In the cave is a row of people, chained in such a way that they can only face the back wall. Behind the row of people is a fire and a procession of figures walking by engaged in all the activities of life. The procession of figures casts shadows on the back wall of the cave. The people who are chained can see only the changing view of shadows, and because that is all they have ever seen, they take these shadows to be ultimate reality. Sometimes a person who is bound in this way, through great effort, manages to loosen the chains and turn around. He or she sees the fire and the procession and begins to understand that the shadows are not the reality, but merely a reflection on the wall. Perhaps with further effort that person is able to cut the chains completely and emerge into the sunlight, into freedom.
Our predicament is similar to those people chained in the cave. The shadows are the world of concepts in which we live. Chained through our attachments, we perceive the world through our ideas, our thoughts, our mental constructs, taking these concepts to be the reality itself. The process of developing insight and wisdom is to begin to experience the realities rather than the shadows.
Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield in their excellent book called Seeking the Heart of Wisdom add:
Mindfulness means seeing how things are, directly and immediately seeing for oneself that which is present and true. It has a quality of fullness and impeccability to it, a bringing of our whole heart and mind, our full attention, to each moment.
When we look at our lives, it’s amazing to see how much of the time we live on automatic pilot, half asleep, unaware, oblivious to what we are doing and what goes on around us. We can walk down the street and all of a sudden find we’ve arrived at our destination, and yet remember nothing at all of what we saw or thought or heard while we were walking. If we reflect on how many things we have done halfheartedly, we can feel our hesitation, our distraction, our fears, and the deadening effect they have had on our life. When we are mindful, there is a quality of being total, of being wholeheartedly and fully present for any activity. In his teachings to Carlos Castaneda, the Yaqui Indian teacher Don Juan speaks of the value of keeping death as one’s adviser. He points out that there are some people who are very careful about the nature of their acts; their happiness comes from acting with the knowledge that they don’t have much time, and so they live with fullness, attention, and impeccability.
Mindfulness has three functions. The first is that mindfulness sees clearly what is happening in the present moment. It is observing and experiencing without reacting. As we practice it, mindfulness allows us to notice what is just here, to receive each experience without judgment, without grasping or aversion. Mindfulness permits us to perceive our senses directly without analysis, comparisons, or interpretation. With this attention we can discover the laws that govern our bodies, hearts, and minds. Through the freshness and immediacy of our attention, and with less identification, we can begin to sense a whole new inner spirit of freedom.
The second way mindfulness functions is that it develops all the other factors of enlightenment. This makes it an extremely powerful attribute of mind. As it grows, it brings with it steadiness, calm, and equanimity. It enhances our ability to investigate the whole nature of life. All of these grow out of our careful attention. Mindfulness can be called a universal quality. It helps in all circumstances: with meditation, with tennis and music, with science and lovemaking, in every human endeavor. When strengthened, it serves as a reference and protection for us and keeps us from being too caught up in the changing circumstances of life. Mindful attention is the ground out of which wisdom and love can grow.
The third function of mindfulness is to balance the mind. When we pay attention in the proper way, no matter what is going on, the mind comes to a sense of balance. In a moment of the worst fear or confusion or attachment or pain, when mindfulness arises, it sees our state clearly and brings us into balance in relation to it. Meditation students must have the direct experience of bringing mindfulness to a difficult situation to truly appreciate the power it has to bring balance to life. No matter how long or difficult an experience has been, a moment of mindfulness can bring us back to balance.