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Mindfulness for Just About Everything

by Paramabandhu

... it much more as provisional.

What is implicit in C.B.T. is made explicit particularly in mindfulness-based cognitive
therapy (or M.B.C.T.). The people who developed M.B.C.T., as I said, were cognitive
therapists – they set out to develop this group version of C.B.T.; they got interested in
Kabat-Zinn's work, and they thought, 'oh, mindfulness, that could be quite useful – let's
try and put a bit of mindfulness into our C.B.T.' – but actually what they ended up with,
in the end, was really a mindfulness training with a bit of C.B.T. thrown in.

A key part of this is making very explicit what is implicit in C.B.T. – so thoughts are just
seen as thoughts, rather than necessarily as facts. It is so easy to believe what goes on our
mind – it is so easy to get caught up in it – you know, we have a thought, 'I'm rubbish',
and we think, 'argh!' – or, 'she did that because I'm a terrible person, and again: 'argh!' – it
has that sinking feeling. It is amazing how sticky our thoughts are: we just hold onto
them and get caught up in them. Again, for those of you who have meditated, which I
imagine many of you have done... it is so easy, isn't it, to get caught up in a train of
thought, and before you know it, wooof, you've gone off somewhere...

So what we train to do in M.B.C.T. is really to see thoughts just as passing phenomena.
We just recognise, in a way, that we have all got lots of garbage in our heads – you
know... put the cards on the table, let's face it... [LAUGHTER] ... it's true for me. I
sometimes think, 'I can't believe I'm thinking that again!'... anyway... [LAUGHTER] ...
but you just recognise that that's what the mind does – it just sort of throws up this
sometimes rather tedious, repetitive and very, very occasionally interesting stuff, which
yet we so easily get caught up in.

So, what we do is we just see it, as I said, as passing phenomena – so we just see
thoughts: they just arise, they pass away, we don't need to take them seriously. And,
again, that is a real key learning, if we can not take our thinking so seriously. So each
time we return to the breath, each time we return to the body, it's like we step out of
taking our thoughts so seriously.

Again, it's a bit like this idea of climbing the tower that I've mentioned; and, in the
refrain, this idea of things arising, passing away, and both: in other words, seeing that
things are impermanent. We can increasingly recognise that things will pass: so negative
thoughts, though they arise, though sometimes they can feel absolutely torrential, they
will pass. Similarly, urges to engage in unhelpful behaviour may be very, very strong, but
they will pass. And the more we can see that, the more confidence we can have in that.

In the refrain [the Buddha] talks about 'internally and externally', so we can reflect on
how it happens to other people as well – that it doesn't just happen to 'me' – that actually
these thoughts, this stuff, it's just an impersonal process, depending on conditions. Our
particular thoughts will be to do with our own personal conditioning: it may be our
childhood; it may be recent events; it may simply be that we just keep thinking in that
way. If you look at addiction, for example, quite often there may be particular early
events that have led someone towards, say, using drink, but once it gets established then
actually you suddenly find you need a drink because you are depressed; because you are
anxious; because you've had a row; because you're watching television; because you're
celebrating the World Cup... and it's like, you know, you always need a drink in every
situation – it gets associated with more and more things.

So that's 'perspective' – in other words particularly changing our perspective on our
thoughts and the other phenomena that happen in our minds.

4. Choice

The final one is 'choice' and really that follows on from the other things, so that actually
once we have clocked what's going on, once we have learnt to be with difficult
experience rather than to flee from it psychically, or to get rid of it by reaching for a
substance, we are then in a much better position to decide what is the best thing to do –
and this is 'mindfulness of purpose'.

Meditation, again, can be very useful from that point of view, because it can sometimes
create a space for what people sometimes talk of as 'wise mind' to arise. If we can just sit
with something, then sometimes a helpful solution will just manifest, will just arise.


So, what I am suggesting is that there are four useful things to help with various health
conditions: clocking what's going on; learning to be with our experience, particularly
difficult experience; changing our perspective on what is going on; and allowing wiser
choice and choosing wisely dependent on that.

They are really useful skills. They can help with recurrent depression, with anxiety, with
pain, with preventing relapse into addiction, but they can also be just very useful for life
in general, because all of us at times get anxious, feel depressed, avoid our experience
when perhaps that is not the most helpful thing to do.

In a way it is an investigation of our experience, a way of being with our experience, that
can just go deeper and deeper. It is said that after the Buddha gained Enlightenment he
continued practicing satipatthana, he continued deepening his understanding... and he
enjoyed it; that's why he did it.

So – for whatever reason – we can deepen our awareness. Again, returning to this refrain
– noticing things arising and passing away – we can notice more and more just how
things change, until we really get in our bones this sense of impermanence in ourselves
and in other people, that we can see more and more fully and know more and more fully
how we are in flux; how we are a set of processes.

And we can even, in a way, more and more enjoy that sense of play – of how things just
arise and pass away. The more we can do that, the less we will actually hold tightly to our
experience, and we then won't be so pulled around by it; we won't be so controlled by it;
we won't be so fooled by it. We can see it for what it is.

So, sati-sampajanya – mindfulness and clear knowledge – basically, from a Buddhist
perspective, leads to vision and knowledge of things as they are. It's another way of
saying the same thing: in other words it eventually leads to freedom, because, as I said,
you're just not controlled by your experience in the same way.

So as the Buddha said, this is 'the direct path for the purification of beings; for the
surmounting of sorrow and lamentation; for the disappearance of pain and grief; for the
attainment of the true Way; for the realisation of Nirvana, namely the Four Foundations
of Mindfulness'. In other words, what we get from the Buddha is an invitation to take this
path as far as we want, whether that is to surmount particular sorrows of recurring
depression or anxiety, or to help overcome and deal with physical pain, or whether it is to
move towards complete awakening, until eventually one is 'abiding independent, and no
longer clinging to anything in the world'...

There are lots of places in the Suttas where you can get a bit of the sense of that, but
when I was writing this talk it reminded me sometimes of the songs of realisation you
get, where people, when they gain Enlightenment, give this little verse which expresses
their sense of freedom.

So I thought I would just end with one of those. This is by Kottitha: his song of
realisation was this...

'Dead to the world and its troubles
he recites mantras
mind unruffled
shaking distractions away
like the wind god
scatters a few
forest leaves'

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