Monday, December 19, 2011

Step Seven on the Eightfold Path

7. Right Mindfulness
Right mindfulness is the controlled and perfected faculty of cognition. It is the mental ability to see things as they are, with clear consciousness. Usually, the cognitive process begins with an impression induced by perception, or by a thought, but then it does not stay with the mere impression. Instead, we almost always conceptualize sense impressions and thoughts immediately. We interpret them and set them in relation to other thoughts and experiences, which naturally go beyond the facticity of the original impression. The mind then posits concepts, joins concepts into constructs, and weaves those constructs into complex interpretative schemes. All this happens only half consciously, and as a result we often see things obscured. Right mindfulness is anchored in clear perception and it penetrates impressions without getting carried away. Right mindfulness enables us to be aware of the process of conceptualization in a way that we actively observe and control the way our thoughts go. Buddha accounted for this as the four foundations of mindfulness: 1. contemplation of the body, 2. contemplation of feeling (repulsive, attractive, or neutral), 3. contemplation of the state of mind, and 4. contemplation of the phenomena.
One way to think about this is to choose something specific to be mindful about. For me two things immediately spring to mind: walking and eating. Let's take eating. Pick up an apple, carefully wash and clean it. Dry it. Look at it, really look at its shape and color, notice whether it has any bruises, whether it is fully ripe. When you bite it, is it overly juicy, does the juice run down your chin? Be fully mindful as you eat the apple, how many times do you chew each bite? Do you set the apple down between bites? At all, or do you eat the entire apple without ever setting it down? What is the size of the apple? Do you eat it all the way to the core? How many seeds does the apple have?
What would happen if everything you ate were given this much attention? Would you eat less or more? Would you eat things that you didn't like? Doubtful, isn't it? Would you continue to shovel food in your mouth to stuff down your feelings? Would I if I were mindful of my feelings? Look at the four foundations of mindfulness: Contemplation of the body, feeling, state of mind and of the phenomena.
If I were to commit to being mindful of my body, feelings and mind, I don't think it would matter what the phenomena were. My life would change dramatically.
Thich Nat Hanh says: Peace in Every Step. There is the Mindfulness Meditation where you take each step mindfully, commiting to every step just the way we did the apple above. Imagine living your life that way. Well, we don't have that kind of time, do we? We don't take that kind of time, certainly.
Suppose, just suppose that when I am feeling anything other than blissful, I pay attention to my feelings, check out what's going on in my body, and honor my feelings by taking care of my body with something healthful. I have a hunch that might be right mindfulness. Just for today, I promise to give that a go.