What is Buddhist Mindfulness?

To me, the most powerful and appealing part of Buddhist mindfulness practice is the possibility of getting to and living from the truth of who we are.

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Buddhist mindfulness teaches that the natural state of our consciousness is unending peace, bliss, unconditional love and Oneness with All That Is. Mindfulness puts forward that we can tune into this truth of our Being at any time by dropping our awareness into the present moment, sometimes called “right brain” consciousness, or our heart-center. The key to doing so is quieting the chatter of the mind and the resultant gamut of emotions that often accompany it.

When the mind (or “left brain”) is in charge, it can trick us into forgetting the truth of who we are. Western culture encourages development of the left brain at the expense of the right. The left brain is very good at logical, sequential thinking, “figuring things out,” analyzing what has just happened, thinking about past events and planning for the future. The left brain is a wonderful tool which allows us to function as human beings. However, most of these thought-movements keep us in either past or future, never quite in tune with the present moment where our true, peaceful, blissful nature resides.

Of course, for most of us, quieting the mind is easier said than done. Mindfulness practices can help. In mindfulness meditation, the first step is to ìbecome the watcherî of our thoughts and emotions. This serves to help us disengage energetically from the left brain/ego, and gradually ìthe watcherî gathers more and more consciousness-energy. If mindfulness is practiced with diligence, at some point the peaceful, nonjudgmental “watcher” becomes the dominant state. Our left brain-mind remains available for use when needed, but it no longer “runs” us. Instead, it is in service to higher consciousness.

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“Becoming the watcher” also involves surrender to whatever is arising in the present moment, whether it is circumstances around us, or our thoughts, perceptions and emotional reactions to the circumstances. One Zen master, when asked what his secret to enlightenment was, replied: “I don’t mind what happens.” Although one might think that surrendering would allow the undesirable situation to grow stronger and take us over (and indeed, that is why we resist), surrender actually results in a withdrawal of energy from what we thought had power over us. Our tense, resistant perception/reaction/judgment was what had given the unwanted circumstances their power; their power over us was only in our minds. We can still take whatever action is best for the situation, but we will do so from a space of non-resistance — non-denial of what is.

In the “watcher” state, unresourceful or unpleasant mind-states and negative emotions arise less and less, and if they do, they dissipate faster. We come to see that our thoughts and negative emotions — our “stories” — were never who we really were, and we can finally start to live more and more from the truth of our being — the peaceful, witnessing presence of All That Is.

Judgment and resistance have strong, harsh energy fields. When we surrender, ironically the “undesirable” situation is drained of power and often melts away, or at least our unpleasant experience of it does. Then the peace and bliss of our true nature the ground-state of unconditional love from which all things arise – can once again flow in.

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