MINDFULNESS FOR HEALTH OF BODY, MIND AND SPIRIT

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A copy of a revised and expanded version of a presentation delivered at a speaker session held at the Wesley School for Seniors, Wesley Mission, Sydney, New South Wales, on 3 July 2014. Copyright © Ian Ellis-Jones 2014. All rights reserved.

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MINDFULNESS FOR HEALTH OF BODY, MIND AND SPIRIT

  1. 1. MINDFULNESS FOR HEALTH OF BODY, MIND AND SPIRIT Dr Ian Ellis-Jones A revised and expanded version of a presentation delivered at a speaker session held at the Wesley School for Seniors, Wesley Mission, Sydney, New South Wales, on 3 July 2014 Good afternoon. It’s good to be here. The topic of my address is ‘Mindfulness for Health of Body, Mind and Spirit.’ We hear a lot these days about meditation and mindfulness in particular. Just as physical exercise is good for the body, so mindfulness---and mindfulness meditation especially---can make positive neuro-physio-psychological changes to the mind as well as being good for the body. Mindfulness meditation deals effectively with negative thoughts and emotions, pain, suffering and stress---and thus ‘dis-ease’---and produces observable and measurable psycho-physical changes in both the body and the mind. Indeed, since 1967 over 1,500 studies worldwide have been conducted by over 250 independent research institutes and centres showing mindfulness meditation to be clinically effective for a wide range of physical and mental conditions. Changes in the body associated with the practise of mindfulness meditation include but are not limited to the following: reduced heart rate reduced blood pressure lowered cholesterol reduced muscle tension increased cardiovascular efficiency
  2. 2. Mindfulness for Health of Body, Mind and Spirit … … Dr Ian Ellis-Jones Page 2 of 20 improved circulation of blood and lymph improved gastrointestinal functioning reduced sensitivity to pain enhanced immune system improved posture overall relaxation of the body and sleep. Changes in the mind associated with the practise of mindfulness meditation include but are not limited to these: increased cortical thickness in the grey matter of the brain a calmer, more patient, stable and steady mind overall relaxation of the mind an enhanced feeling of wellbeing improved ability to cope with and release stress enhanced cognitive functioning and performance improved concentration and attention to detail faster sensory processing increased capacity for focus and memory increased learning and consciousness increased openness to new ideas greater responsiveness in the moment reduced mental distractedness ... increased verbal creativity delayed ageing of the brain. Too good to be true? It isn’t. Some or all of these positive, beneficial changes can happen for you, and in you, if you make a decision to start living in a new and different way, and are painstaking about pursuing this new way of living. Actually, mindfulness is the oldest and most natural way of living with alertness and awareness of yourself and what’s going on around you.
  3. 3. Mindfulness for Health of Body, Mind and Spirit … … Dr Ian Ellis-Jones Page 3 of 20 As a spiritual practice, living mindfully makes you more aware of who you really are. By self-observation you gain invaluable insight into your thoughts, feelings, and actions. You become more directly aligned to the flow of life of which we all are a part. That can only be a good thing. It’s all very empowering. Please listen to these words from a leading authority on meditation and mindfulness: Why should we observe or watch physical and mental processes as they are? Because we want to realise their true nature. [That] leads us to the right understanding of natural processes as just natural process. ... When our body feels hot, we should observe that feeling of heat as it is. When the body feels cold, we should observe it as cold. When we feel pain, we should observe it as it is - pain. When we feel happy, we should watch that happiness as it is - as happiness. When we feel angry, we should observe that anger as it really is - as anger. When we feel sorry, we should be mindful of it as it is - as sorry. When we feel sad or disappointed, then we must be aware of our emotional state of sadness or disappointment as it is.’ (Sayadaw U Janakabhivamsa) Living naturally ... and realistically ... you might say. Now, what, I hear you asking, is mindfulness? Let's begin with Webster's Dictionary, which defines mindfulness as ‘the trait of staying aware (paying close attention to) your responsibilities and/or being present in the moment.’ Not a bad start ... for a dictionary definition. Here are some definitions or descriptions of mindfulness from some leading Theravāda Buddhist authorities: ... ‘a kind of attentiveness that … is good, skilful or right (kusala)’ (Nyanaponika Thera) ... ‘focused awareness applied to immediate experience in both its subjective and objective factors’ (Bhikkhu Bodhi) ... ‘the ability to keep something in mind’ (Thānissaro Bhikkhu)
  4. 4. Mindfulness for Health of Body, Mind and Spirit … … Dr Ian Ellis-Jones Page 4 of 20 ... ‘general recollectedness, not being scatterbrained’ (Ñāṇavīra Thera, linking it with ‘reflexion’, that is, knowing what one knows or does as one knows or does it). The Indian spiritual teacher J. Krishnamurti used to say that that meditation is a lifelong inquiry into what it means to be present, and to stay present, in the present moment ... with choiceless awareness and bare attention ... and with curiosity (but not credulity). I’ll have more to say about those words ‘choiceless awareness’ and ‘bare attention’ soon.) Krishnamurti also said, ‘Learning is movement from moment to moment.’ Now, that is mindfulness. I love the simplicity of American mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn's definition, or rather description, of mindfulness: ‘Paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally.’ (‘Falling awake,’ he calls it!) In other words, mindfulness is the direct, immediate and unmediated perception of ‘what is’. By direct, immediate, and unmediated I mean that one’s perception of both internal and external reality is no longer filtered and distorted through such things as beliefs, conditioning, analysis, interpretation, and judgment. Here is one of my favorite descriptions of mindfulness from Asokananda (aka Harold Brust) that describes, using a helpful analogy, just what mindfulness is: You are going out of your house. Nobody is at home. You lock the door. In your living room, a tape recorder is running. The telephone rings. The ringing is recorded on the tape. Somebody is ringing the doorbell. That also will be registered by the tape recorder. Someone is in front of the door and shouts your name. The tape recorder registers the shouting. It registers, and registers, and registers. … But the tape recorder doesn’t react. It doesn’t answer the phone call. It doesn’t open the door. And, what is even more important, the tape recorder doesn’t judge whether the caller in front of your door is a friend or somebody whom you rather wouldn’t welcome. The tape recorder only states the simple fact of telephone ringing, doorbell ringing, shouting, etc. This in simple form is the principle of vipassana, which the Buddha in his sermon on mindfulness, said is the only path to realization. It is the principle of bare observation. (Asokananda, The Yoga of Mindfulness (1993), p 19.) Get the idea?
  5. 5. Mindfulness for Health of Body, Mind and Spirit … … Dr Ian Ellis-Jones Page 5 of 20 Now, mindfulness is not so much a ‘system’ per se ... thank goodness (I hate all ‘systems,’ ‘techniques,’ and ‘methods’!) ... but, in the words of Jack Kornfield, who is one of the leading Buddhist teachers in America, it is ‘a systematic [that is, careful, methodical, as opposed to following some system] training and awakening of body, heart, and mind that is integrated with the world around us’. The Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh writes that to live mindfully is ‘to keep our appointment with life’. Great stuff! Before I proceed any further let me tell you what mindfulness is not. Mindfulness is not a religion. Religion ordinarily involves a system of beliefs or statement of doctrine, a code of conduct, and prescribed forms of ritual or religious observances, as well as both ‘faith’ and’ worship’, accompanied by a system of moral philosophy or particular doctrines of faith as well as a religious community which supports that faith and its organization and practices. Mindfulness does not involve or require any faith at all---certainly no faith in a supernatural ‘Being,’ ‘Thing,’ or ‘Principle’- --nor does mindfulness involve any worship or impose any system of beliefs or statement of doctrine, code of conduct or prescribed forms of ritual or religious observances. Some people mistakenly believe that mindfulness is Buddhist. (By the way, Buddhism is only a religion in some of its forms and manifestations.) Now, the word ‘mindfulness’ can refer to a specific type or practice of meditation used as a psychological and educational tool in Theravāda Buddhism---a naturalistic form of Buddhism of which there are several schools---known as vipassanā (or insight) meditation. I will have some more to say about that word vipassanā later on. However, mindfulness is not restricted to Buddhism, Buddhists or Buddhist meditation. Indeed, there are several types or forms of Buddhist meditation, and Buddhists do not claim to ‘own’ or have a monopoly on mindfulness and mindfulness meditation. In short, any person can practise mindfulness, irrespective of their religion or lack of religion.
  6. 6. Mindfulness for Health of Body, Mind and Spirit … … Dr Ian Ellis-Jones Page 6 of 20 Nor is mindfulness a philosophy. A philosophy ordinarily consists of numerous teachings, ideas or principles which collectively provide an overall coherent view of the purpose or meaning of life. There certainly are certain teachings associated with the subject of mindfulness, but mindfulness as such does not seek to explain the purpose or meaning of life. You may be wondering how mindfulness meditation differs from other types of meditation. Well, most forms of meditation involve the 'method' of concentration upon some image (be it physical or mental) or sound, and are designed primarily to calm the mind. They provide little or no insight into the action of the present moment including one’s consciousness and external surroundings. Mindfulness, as we will see, does involves attention, but not concentration as that word is ordinarily understood, although concentration is certainly included in attention. Mindfulness is a means by which we can gain understanding and insight into ourselves and our behaviour. We thereby learn to accept whatever is ... with emotional equanimity. Mindfulness requires no 'method' as such, but is simply the direct, immediate, and unmediated experience of life as it unfolds from one moment to the next. Mindfulness simply happens... as soon as we remove the barriers to its happening. In that regard, mindfulness has been described by one leading authority to be ‘the most simple and direct, the most thorough and effective, method for training and developing the mind for its daily tasks and problems’ (Nyanaponika Thera). Now, for what it’s worth, here is my definition of mindfulness: Mindfulness is the watchful, receptive, deliberate, and purposeful presence of bare attention to, and choiceless awareness of, the content of the action (both internal and external) of the present moment ... from one moment to the next. The word ‘presence’ refers to both physical and psychological presence---of you, your body, and your mind. 'Watchful' presence means that there you are very much aware
  7. 7. Mindfulness for Health of Body, Mind and Spirit … … Dr Ian Ellis-Jones Page 7 of 20 that you're aware of what is going on in and about you, and this alert and open awareness of your actual awareness proceeds deliberately, purposefully, and receptively on your part. I will speak about ‘bare attention’ in this post. In at least one previous post I have written about the meaning of those words ‘choiceless [i.e. non- judgmental] awareness.’ I use the word ‘content’ because it is ‘content’---in terms of our personal experiences of actual occurrences of things in space and time---of which we are aware and to which we ought to give clear and single-minded attention. That content may be internal (eg thoughts, feelings, mental images, as well as bodily sensations and the like) or external (sounds, sights, etc), and, as I say, we are talking about the content of actual events be they internal or external or as is almost invariably the case a mixture of both of those things. And it is action in the present moment; thus the recollection of some memory of a past event is a present ‘now’ experience. It is always experience in the present moment. However, as we all know, the present moment is ever so elusive and ephemeral. Life is a constant flow, and never static, and so we speak of the action of the present moment from one moment to the next. All you need is a purposively open mind---and, most importantly, a mind that is curious and receptive to whatever is happening in your moment-to-moment experience of daily life. And, after all, is it not self-evident that it helps to be purposefully alert, receptive, and attentive to what is going on in and about us? Whenever I mention that I'm into mindfulness some people immediately think of yellow robes, gurus, transcendental states of consciousness, mind-altering drugs, alternative medicine, alternative spirituality, out-of-body experiences, escapism, and just plain wackiness. Mindfulness is none of those things. Mindfulness is simply going about your daily, everyday life---with your eyes wide open and your mind open, curious and engaged. Got that? Then please never forget it---and pass the word around. Back to Nyanaponika Thera---and what is known as ‘bare attention,’ which is an integral, and essential, part of the practice of mindfulness. In his book The Heart of
  8. 8. Mindfulness for Health of Body, Mind and Spirit … … Dr Ian Ellis-Jones Page 8 of 20 Buddhist Meditation the venerable monk and teacher defines, or rather describes, bare attention in these words: Bare attention is the clear and single-minded awareness of what actually happens to us and in us, at the successive moments of perception. It is called ‘bare’, because it attends just to the bare facts of a perception as presented either through the five physical senses or through the mind which, for Buddhist thought, constitutes the sixth sense. When attending to that sixfold sense impression, attention or mindfulness is kept to a bare registering of the facts observed, without reacting to them by deed, speech or by mental comment which may be one of self-reference (like, dislike, etc), judgement or reflection. … [original emphasis] Now, I can hear you asking, ‘But what if I find myself wandering in thought, or starting to form some liking or disliking of the content of the experience---a reaction, in other words?’ Well, Nyanaponika Thera gives this advice: If during the time, short or long, given to the practice of Bare Attention, any such comments arise in one’s mind, they themselves are made objects of Bare Attention, and are neither repudiated nor pursued, but are dismissed, after a brief mental note has been made of them. One of way of doing the latter---and perhaps the simplest and least intrusive way---is simply to say, ‘Thinking, thinking,’ or ‘feeling, feeling,’ or something like that. In other words, any noting should be brief and perfunctory. Now, for heaven’s sake, never try to actively expel the thought, feeling, or whatever. Remember the law of non-resistance? Whatever you resist, persists. Be gentle, and use indirect means. Just ‘note’ and gently- --yes, gently, indeed ever so gently---bring your mind back to a state of clear and single- minded awareness of what is otherwise happening in and around you. Observe each thought or feeling as it arises---then let it fade out in its natural manner ... as it always will, provided you don't resist it or get 'carried away' by and with it. One more bit of useful advice from Nyanaponika Thera with respect to the matter of bare attention. (Note. He has much more to say about the matter in his book. Please get a copy of it. I think it will help you immeasurably.) Your bare attention should not only be clear and single-minded, it should also consist in a ‘bare and exact registering of the object [of your moment-to-moment experience].’ In other words, let your concern be
  9. 9. Mindfulness for Health of Body, Mind and Spirit … … Dr Ian Ellis-Jones Page 9 of 20 solely with registering---with passive detachment and objectivity---the facticity and actuality of things-as-they-really-are as they unfold from one moment to the next. Do not personalize this. Just watch and observe, as if it all were happening to someone else (that is, as if you have no personal connection with whatever you observe). That is not an easy thing to do, as we are all so accustomed to labeling, judging, interpreting, analyzing, and otherwise commenting upon things-as-they-happen. The inevitable result? We lose direct and immediate contact with reality. We are no longer with ‘it,’ so to speak. We are some place else. That is certainly not the best way to live. We all know that from personal experience. So, don't dwell upon or otherwise cling to thoughts and feelings. Let them fade out in their natural manner. Only when we live mindfully, with bare attention, can we truly be said to be living in the 'now,' experiencing life right as it happens, so to speak. Sure, there is a place for labeling, judging, interpreting, analyzing, and otherwise commenting upon things-as- they-happen---but not every second or few seconds. That is not the way to go. Bare attention means being and living attentively, receptively, and purposefully in the so- called present moment ... for moments pass. As I write this, THIS (now past) moment has already gone forever …never to return. Such is life. By the way, Nyanaponika Thera had this to say in his book about mindfulness. He said that mindfulness---which is often described as being the 'method of no-method'--- provides 'the most simple and direct, the most thorough and effective, method for training and developing the mind for its daily tasks and problems.' That's what you really want---or at least need---isn't it? If so, please forget about costly, gimmicky and trademarked forms or so-called 'techniques' (oh, how I hate that word) of meditation, and go for the most simple, direct, and natural means available and proceed to apply it to your entire life. You see, mindfulness takes meditation---in the true sense and meaning of the word---and then applies it to one's whole life. Now we come to choiceless awareness.
  10. 10. Mindfulness for Health of Body, Mind and Spirit … … Dr Ian Ellis-Jones Page 10 of 20 Awareness – choiceless awareness – is an integral part of mindfulness, but mindfulness (sati) is not simply awareness (viññāna), but awareness of awareness. Yes,awareness of awareness .. a ‘two-dimensional awareness’. The author Eckhart Tolle puts it this way: Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them. The Pāli word sati literally means ‘memory’. The word sati comes from a root meaning ‘to remember’. So, mindfulness is ... remembering what is present ... remembering to stay present in the present moment from one moment to the next ... as well as remembering in the present moment what has already happened. In other words, mindfulness is all about remembering the present ... that is, 'keeping' the present in mind. Put simply, mindfulness is remembering to be 'here' ... and to stay 'here' ... now. In an interesting article cited at the end of this blog Dr Dan Siegel writes: Mindful awareness entails more than sensing present experience as it generates an awareness of awareness and attention to intention [sic]. These fundamental aspects of mindfulness can be seen as forms of meta-cognition ... Let’s focus on what actually happens in the human mind itself. You know, we don’t really understand thought or consciousness and what’s involved. There are various ideas on the matter, and some important discoveries have been made on the subject in recent years, but much that pertains to thought and consciousness remains a mystery. For our present purposes let’s simply say that consciousness is awareness from one moment to the next. As a person, you think---or rather---experience---thoughts. Thought is simply a function of consciousness (or mind), with the latter being the total field in which thought
  11. 11. Mindfulness for Health of Body, Mind and Spirit … … Dr Ian Ellis-Jones Page 11 of 20 functions. Now, you all know that you are not your thoughts … in the same way that you have a body but are not your body. Now, when it comes to thoughts the idea in our mind that there is some ‘thinker’ or ‘thinking self’ within the mind, and supposedly ‘behind’ (whatever that means) the thought, is fallacious. Yes, the preponderance of the scientific evidence is to the effect that there is no such thinker or thinking self---at least there is no thinker apart from the thoughts. What does this mean? Well, among other things, it means that, when it comes to that function of consciousness called thinking, there are only thoughts, and thinking, and it is the thinking that creates the mental construct, so to speak, of a notional (but not actual) thinker. The latter is, well, illusory in the sense that it has no separate, independent, and permanent existence apart from our thoughts or the person each one of us is. Yes, the thoughts come first, not the thinker. It is the thoughts, or more exactly the process of thinking, that creates the thinker. Actually, the thinker (that is, ‘thinking self’ in our mind) and the thinking are a ‘joint phenomenon,’ as Jiddu Krishnamurti used to say. They are not two separate processes or entities. Indeed, the so-called thinker/thinking self is not an entity at all in any real sense. Now, some of you will say to me, ‘Well, Ellis-Jones, assuming for the moment that is the case, so what?’ My response is this. If the thinker in our mind is created by the process of thinking in our mind, a separation in thinking has taken place in our mind. We have the thinker---note, I am not talking about you, the person, being the thinker, but rather ‘something’ supposedly existent in your mind---and the thinking or thoughts. Yes, a separation has taken place in our mind, and it is an artificial one. This separation, although illusory in the sense outlined above, is nevertheless a division in our mind and thinking which is regrettable in a couple of respects. First, the separation or division is perhaps the major cause of our losing immediacy and directness in our moment-to-moment experience of life, Secondly, the separation or division is a cause of our developing what can only be
  12. 12. Mindfulness for Health of Body, Mind and Spirit … … Dr Ian Ellis-Jones Page 12 of 20 described as a false or artificial personality---a personality that prevents us from seeing ourselves as we really are, and others as they really are. This separation or division has a momentum all of its own and spills over into our society and world at large. As I say, it is all most regrettable. The bottom line is that there is no ‘watcher/watching self’ or ‘perceiver/perceiving self’ in your mind. There is just the thing watched or perceived together with our sensory perceptions of that object, with the object being the objective or causal condition (that is, ‘cause’). Well, is there anything we can do about this? There certainly is. First, try to understand that what I’ve described above---although seemingly counter-intuitive to perhaps many of you---is actually the case. The understanding and insight gained will help to free you from the bondage of separation or duality in our cognitive processes, and that will assist you in being able to see things as-they-really-are with directness and immediacy. You will then be able to penetrate the core of reality, and that is a wonderful thing. Here is something very important from J. Krishnamurti: When you look at a flower, when you just see it, at that moment is there an entity who sees? Or is there only seeing? Seeing the flower makes you say [i.e. think], “How nice it is! I want it.’ So the “I” comes into being through desire, fear, ambition [all thought], which follow in the wake of seeing. It is these that create the “I” and the “I” is non-existent without them. In truth, there are only the following three ‘relational’ elements in order for a stimulus to be perceived: first, the sense-object (or simply the object in question), secondly, a sense organ (eg eyes, ears, nose), and thirdly, attention or consciousness. It is more-or-less the same with our thoughts and thinking, except we have no sense- object and sense-organ involved as such.
  13. 13. Mindfulness for Health of Body, Mind and Spirit … … Dr Ian Ellis-Jones Page 13 of 20 Now, in order for there to be an immediacy, directness and uninterruptedness about our moment-to-moment experience of life, those three occurrences need to occur more-or- less simultaneously---that is, no separation. If those three events are not simultaneously experienced---and that will happen if we engage in thinking, analysis, comparison, interpretation, or judgment in connection with the object in question (be it external or internal)---then the chances are that what will be experienced will be nothing but ... the past! Yes, the reality of the immediate experience will subside. Indeed, it will die! Any consciousness of it will be in the form of an after-thought or memory, as we glance back to re-experience, and (sadly, yes) evaluate, a past experience. Mindfulness enables us to experience life as it really is … and as it unfolds from one moment to the next … in all its directness and immediacy. Now, what could be a better way to live than that? There is, of course, a time for thinking, introspection, analysis, comparison, interpretation, and judgment. I certainly affirm the need for rationality. The trouble is, we think far too much, and we end up forfeiting our otherwise direct and immediate connection with the flow of life. Now, go out there and look---really look, and just look, doing nothing but look---at a rose or some other flower. Don’t start thinking about the flower. Don’t start comparing the flower with other flowers you have seen. Don’t judge or otherwise assess the beauty of the flower. Just look at it---without there being any separation. Perceive the flower here and now. See it as it really is---as a new moment. That moment will never come again. Yes, this presence—indeed, omnipresence---of life is the whole of reality. It is all here and now, and it is all that there is. Life, you see, is not cumulative. It is from moment to moment---both being as well as becoming. Don’t let your experience of life die on you--- not even for a moment. ‘Accept the offer of newness in the now,’ to borrow a wonderful line from the American spiritual teacher and writer Vernon Howard.
  14. 14. Mindfulness for Health of Body, Mind and Spirit … … Dr Ian Ellis-Jones Page 14 of 20 There it is---an ‘awareness of awareness’. Mindfulness remembers awareness ... as well as the object of awareness. The work of being mindful, of practising mindfulness, is the work of reminding ourselves, not just to be aware, but also that we are aware ... indeed, that we are already aware. Many psychologists refer to this activity as being that of a so-called ‘witnessing self’ ... a special relationship of ‘self’ to ‘self’, whatever that means. I have trouble with the whole concept of ‘self’---my power-not-oneself (or ‘Higher Power’ to borrow a phrase from the 12-step programs) is the power of ‘not-self’---so I like to keep things simple. (Ha!) In any event, 'un-self-consciousness' or 'no-mindedness' is, for me, the 'holy grail' of all meditative practice – 'a state of wholeness in which the mind functions freely and easily, without the sensation of a second mind or ego standing over it with a club' (the immortal words of the ever-quotable Zen Buddhist Alan Watts). Now, back to keeping things simple. First, there is the person who is aware. Secondly, there is the object of awareness. Thirdly, there is the act of being aware. It just so happens that the object of awareness can be awareness itself. Remember, it is the person that you are who is doing the awareness ... not some supposed illusory ‘self’ or 'second mind' ... and mindfulness is all about the person that you are paying attention to that person ... and not to a 'self' ... within each unfolding moment and from one such moment to the next. As already mentioned, mindfulness meditation is also called insight meditation as well as vipassanā. (That’s a Pāli word, Pāli being a Middle Indo-Aryan language that is in the Prakrit language group, of which Sanskrit is another such language.) Now, there are different ways of seeing, and that is what the word vipassanā means. The word is composed of two parts – vi, meaning ‘in various ways’, and passanā, meaning seeing. So, vipassanā means ‘seeing in various ways’ ... as well as seeing things as they really are. Buddhist meditation teacher, and renowned authority on Vipassanā (insight meditation), Patrick Kearney has written:
  15. 15. Mindfulness for Health of Body, Mind and Spirit … … Dr Ian Ellis-Jones Page 15 of 20 Mindfulness, in other words, implies not just awareness, but reflexive awareness, awareness bending back to itself. Normally, we are aware. We don’t have to make any special effort to be aware; we are already aware. We see, hear, smell, taste, touch and think. Technically, we can say that it is the nature of mind to contact an object; to be aware of something. So far, so good. We are already aware. But are we aware that we are aware? And of what we are aware? Have you ever had the experience of driving a car along familiar streets and suddenly realising you have no memory of the previous three blocks? Clearly, while driving through those city blocks you were aware, for otherwise you would now be dead or seriously injured. But did you know you were aware? Were you aware of your awareness? Or did this understanding occur only at that moment when you remembered you are now driving this car? This is mind blowing stuff ... not so much what Kearney has written, which is illuminatingly profound in its own way, but the bit about mindfulness being awareness of awareness. Is there a ‘three-dimensional awareness’ ... an awareness of awareness of awareness? What about a ‘four-dimensional awareness’ ... an awareness of awareness of awareness of awareness? Feeling sick? All too much? Let’s move on. Mindfulness is many things, but above all mindfulness is the bare attention to, and the choiceless (i.e. no preference, and no prejudice) awareness of, the action and content---both internal and external---of the present moment unfolding from one moment to the next. (Note. It is the attention that gives rise to the awareness.) Mindfulness is not only awareness, it is also the awareness of awareness. But exactly what sort of awareness? Well, for one thing, it is a curious awareness, that is, one in which the observer---that is, you, the person that you are (not some supposed 'inner' observer in your mind)---is open, spontaneous, passively inquisitive, and, above all else, flexible. Also, the awareness is not only direct and immediate, it is of a ‘soft focus’ kind. Never forget that. The Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhist monk and author Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, the author of Mindfulness in Plain English, one of the best books ever written on the subject, has this to say about the matter: When you first become aware of something, there is a fleeting instant of pure awareness just before you conceptualize the thing, before you identify it. … It is that flashing split second just as you focus your eyes on the thing, just as you focus your mind on the thing, just before you objectify it, clamp down on it mentally and segregate it from the rest of existence. It takes place just before you start thinking
  16. 16. Mindfulness for Health of Body, Mind and Spirit … … Dr Ian Ellis-Jones Page 16 of 20 about it--before your mind says, 'Oh, it's a dog.' That flowing, soft-focused moment of pure awareness is Mindfulness. In that brief flashing mind-moment you experience a thing as an un-thing. You experience a softly flowing moment of pure experience that is interlocked with the rest of reality, not separate from it. … Bhante G goes on to say that mindfulness is akin to what we see with our peripheral vision ‘as opposed to the hard focus of normal or central vision.’ Now, here is what I think is the really important thing. In Bhante G’s words: Yet this moment of soft, unfocused, awareness contains a very deep sort of knowing that is lost as soon as you focus your mind and objectify the object into a thing. … Let’s say that you’re driving your motor vehicle in the middle lane on a six-lane highway. Using your peripheral vision you become aware that there is on your side of the road and more-or-less level with you a red truck in the left lane and a black or dark blue car in the right lane---it doesn’t matter what. You are aware they are there. You don’t need to look closely. It’s more than sufficient that you’re aware they are there---and you immediately adjust your position in your lane to make sure there is no contact, while all the time keeping your eye on the road and looking directly ahead. That is the way to go! Bhante G makes the undeniable point that, in the ordinary course of our experience of things---that is, so-called ‘ordinary perception’---this ever-so-brief moment of ‘soft, unfocused, awareness is ‘so fleeting as to be unobservable.’ Yes, we squander the moment, so to speak. We let it die on us completely. So much of our so-called experience of life is, well, a total non-experience. We are not even ‘alive’ to it. Yes, I estimate that as much as 80 or 90 per cent of the moments of our life ‘experience’ are not experienced by us at all. It’s like we are not even alive for most of the time. Sad--- very sad---when you stop to think about it. Yes, we choose to be ‘alive’ (in a sort of a way) to some perceptions but we let it die on us and quickly make it---and ourselves---the past. We note the perception. We label the perception. We react to the perception (in the form of, say, attachment or aversion) on
  17. 17. Mindfulness for Health of Body, Mind and Spirit … … Dr Ian Ellis-Jones Page 17 of 20 the basis of, among other things, mental images, memories, opinions, beliefs, judgments, prejudices, preferences, evaluations, as well as so-called knowledge and conditioning---and we interpret the perception. Instead of just 'seeing' or 'observing' in a direct, immediate and spontaneous manner, we subject the otherwise fleeting perception to the whole content of our consciousness stream. And, not only that, we start to analyse and judge it---thinking, thinking, thinking. There is no end to it. And where there is thought, there is no awareness. None. The result---analysis paralysis, judgment, all rooted in the past. For varying lengths of time we cease to be present in the now---we’re stuck in the past. And that's not a good place to be. In the words of Bhante G, ‘[t]hat original moment of Mindfulness is rapidly passed over.’ He then goes on to say that the purpose of Mindfulness Meditation is ‘to train us to prolong that moment of awareness.’ Now, we are talking about a 'still' moment of ‘pure’, unadulterated, unconditioned (that is, not-in-the-past) awareness---before we start mentally riding off in all directions, so to speak. Bhante G refers to this moment of awareness as a ‘flowing, soft-focused moment of pure awareness.’ Beautiful words. J. Krishnamurti has written, 'To see temporarily is sufficient. If you can see it for a fleeting second, it is enough, because you will then see an extraordinary thing taking place.' He is talking about an attention that is total and complete, that is, direct perception---without memory and thought taking any part in it. Elsewhere, Krishnamurti refers to the state of mind in which there is 'total seeing' as a 'state of negation' in which there is no identification and there are no evaluations, no justifications, no condemnations and no defences. It is a mind or mind-set that is 'choicelessly still,' yet at the same time 'fully awakened.' In the words of Krishnamurti, 'Seeing is one thing and seeing something is another.' People say to me, ‘Surely there is a place for analysis, judgment, and the like?’ Of course there is. As a practising lawyer I would get nowhere without analysis and judgment of complex sets of facts and circumstances falling for consideration and
  18. 18. Mindfulness for Health of Body, Mind and Spirit … … Dr Ian Ellis-Jones Page 18 of 20 advice. But, having said that, we are talking about moment-to-moment choiceless awareness and experience of life as it continuously unfolds from one moment to the next. Don’t let those precious moments ‘die’ on you by letting your mind stop to label, analyze and judge. Instead, stay soft-focused in the now, remaining curiously but passively alert to each perception---that is, ‘flashing mind-moment’---as close to its moment of ‘arising’ as is humanly possible in all the circumstances of the moment. Do that---and you will truly come alive! I have said that mindfulness is good for the spirit or soul. Indeed, it is. The regular practice of mindfulness helps you to appreciate the transience and ephemeral nature of all things on the one hand and the permanence of the stream of life itself on the other. As we pay mindful attention ('choiceless awareness') to life unfolding from one moment to the next we become increasingly knowingly aware of, and acute to, the ongoing rhythm of life, its ebb and flow, its highs and lows. We become knowingly aware when we are aware that we are aware. What’s more, we learn to cling to nothing, for all that we cling to will eventually pass away. True, we enjoy, even cherish, those brief, ephemeral moments of love and happiness we have with our loved ones and friends. Those moments are all the more precious when we come to understand that they will not last. But we must be prepared to let them go when it is time so to do. Here’s something else I want to say---and it is some very practical advice which you can use. You may have been told that whenever a negative thought enters your consciousness, you should immediately replace that thought with a positive one. Sounds good advice, doesn’t it? However, I have come to the view that, ordinarily, the best thing to do is this---simply watch and observe your thoughts and feelings---a feeling being a felt thought, and the direct result of thought---with passive detachment. That is an integral part of mindfulness, you know. Do not feel any pressure or compulsion to change your thoughts or feelings. That takes time and effort---and thought substitution breaks what would otherwise be your direct and immediate moment-to-
  19. 19. Mindfulness for Health of Body, Mind and Spirit … … Dr Ian Ellis-Jones Page 19 of 20 moment experience of life. No, simply watch and observe the negative thought or feeling dispassionately. In and of themselves, these thoughts have no 'content' and therefore no power to hurt you, so don’t give them any power they don’t deserve by even seeking to change them. As I’ve already said, thought is simply a function of consciousness (or mind), with the latter being the total field in which thought functions. Believed thought is an altogether different matter. Believed thought is thought you have accepted as true irrespective of whether or not it actually is true. Belief adds 'content' to our thoughts and feelings and thus gives them a certain power they otherwise would not have. Believed thought is a matter you do need to be concerned with, for that sort of thought can have biochemical effects on the cells on your body. If you doubt that, I can only suggest you read Bruce Lipton's wonderful book The Biology of Belief. So, when a negative thought or emotion enters into your consciousness, don’t deny its existence or seek to override or counteract the thought or feeling with a positive one. Again, that is giving the thought or feeling more attention, recognition, and power than it rightly deserves. Observe and briefly note its existence, but spend no time---not even a nanosecond---evaluating, labelling, judging, or condemning that thought. Simply let the thought or feeling go. In giving you that advice, I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not advocating negative thinking. Other things being equal, positive thinking is ‘better’ than negative thinking, but at the end of the day, both types of thinking are just that---thinking---and thoughts and feelings have no power---I repeat, no power---in and of themselves to hurt you. I will conclude with this. How many times have people said to you, ‘Live in the moment’, or ‘Live in the now’? You know, you cannot actually live in the moment. The reason is fairly simple. The so-called ‘moment’ is so brief, so ephemeral, so short a period of time, that no sooner has it arrived, it's gone. It's the past. You cannot live in the moment because the moment, although ever-present, is always changing ... into the next
  20. 20. Mindfulness for Health of Body, Mind and Spirit … … Dr Ian Ellis-Jones Page 20 of 20 moment ... and then the next ... and the next … and so on! Consciousness, as I’ve already said, is nothing more than awareness from one moment to the next. Mindfulness is concerned with being present, and living with awareness, from moment to moment … that is, from one moment to the next. Existentially, it is not possible to live in the moment but it is possible to live, and be fully aware, from one moment to the next. That is the important thing. Mindful living is all from moment to moment ... being aware step by step, breath by breath, thought by thought, feeling by feeling, memory by memory, sensation by sensation, and so forth. Such is the flow of life, for what is life but the ongoing moment-to-moment livingness of living things and beings living out their livingness from one moment to the next. So, don't try to live in the moment or in the now, well-intentioned though such advice might be. Live, mindfully, that is, with choiceless awareness and bare attention, from one moment to the next ... and be fully present and aware while you do so. All the very best. -oo0oo-

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