Meditation Talk: Mindfulness of Mind
In our last classes together we began exploring the first two foundations of mindfulness: mindfulness of body (to include breath) and mindfulness of feeling. In these two foundations we really focus on cultivating the capacity to be mindful - to pay attention through the conduit of the body and the breath and to begin exploring the feeling tones that are constantly arising as we make contact from inner to outer world through the vessel of the body and breath. Perhaps we began to play unintentionally even with the ephemeral nature of all things: noticing how every sensation, thought, sound, feeling, all phenomena come and go just like the breath. In essence, touching the inherent nature of all things to change and to be impermanent. We even went so far as to be curious about this intentionally by noticing when unpleasant sensations arose in the body and inviting ourselves to rest with them, exploring even their nature to change if we dropped our reactivity and simply let ourselves be with them.
Today, we make the journey into mindfulness of mind. Grounded in a strong foundation of mindfulness through our anchors to presence, body and breath, and resting in the awareness of our constantly arising feeling tones for what we experience through body and breath, this is the first foundation where in essence we begin to turn to eye of exploration toward the looker itself: the mind. Though I’m a little biased in that I find all the explorations of the foundations to be quite fun in a way, I think mindfulness of mind can sometimes be the absolutely most magical. This is the space where we most certainly begin to form the most tangible and palpable connections to ourselves: to our habits, to our histories, to the almost constantly working unconscious parts of our minds.
As we bring a conscious, non-judgemental awareness to the happenings of the mind, we begin to really deeply connect to the mind’s natural energy and how different it can be moment by moment, day by day, sit by sit. Sometimes we arrive in a practice to find the mind as rapid as a river rushing out of a dam. Sometimes, it can be naturally quite still like the surface of lake early in the morning just before dawn. As we turn our attention toward the mind itself, we begin to cultivate a quiet presence that sees not just thoughts themselves, but also the space between thoughts. Just as there is empty space, void of arising sound, so are there many moments in the mind where no thought occurs at all. In this space, we begin to see the space OF mind. The ether from which thoughts arise. The curiosity in these moments is what is here in the void of thoughts? As we rest in the spaciousness and natural clarity of the mind, we have the capacity to see as a thought just begins to amalgamate into form: but where does this thought come from? How does it arise? Can you touch the thought before it even has words? Can we point to the thought or for that matter can we point to the mind that’s generating the thoughts? Where is all of this powerful energy that, when unseen, dictates so much of our interactions with our world and ourselves?
As we begin toying with these questions, we really open the door for uncovering the quiet habits of the unconscious mind: to notice how we are relating to what we are experiencing, just like in mindfulness of feeling, but here, starting to sense how the mind begins to pretty vehemently cling to liking and push away at disliking and how quickly these experiences of mind arise. When we’re paying attention mindfully as this happens, we have the chance to actually question our own habitual responses. Do I really like this? Why do I like this? And the same with dislike. We can begin to dig below the surface of pleasure and displeasure to what it is about each experience that strikes us as good, bad, or neutral. In this same way, as thoughts arise, the playness here becomes whether we believe each thought the mind generates...and truly, this last piece is one of the most powerful outcomes, I think, of becoming mindful of our own minds so let me say that last piece again:
Each thought the mind generates
As we explore mindfulness of mind, a natural beauty that arises is the knowing that, ahhhh, I am not my mind, nor am I bound by the confines of my thoughts. As we begin to see the nature of the mind to think, to generate relational thoughts to each arising experience, to constantly be scanning and filtering the external and internal worlds, we also get the chance to see the mind as just a mind. Like your leg or your hand, it is no more “you” than anything else that makes up the you-ness that you know as you. And just as we can rest with uncomfortable sensations in the body without pushing them away, so can we begin to rest with uncomfortable thoughts without necessarily believing them. From much psychological research today, we have learned that most of our unconscious biases and habits of interacting in the world are formed by age 7. If these things remain unconscious that means how we perceive, receive, and respond to the world around is being determined by our 7 year old selves. Think about that for just a moment. Where were you at 7? Do you still believe everything you believed at 7? The answer is of course no, but until we bring attention to the 7 year old, often times fearful child, running the show in the back of our brains, we never get the chance to thank them for protecting us for so long but deciding we’re ready for a new way of interpreting ourselves and our worlds. This is powerful stuff. I can tell you that in my own practice, I have learned over and over again that I do NOT believe MOST of what I think, and having that recognition has been incredibly powerful and freeing!
Not to be bound by what we think moment by moment means we are, inherently, more open to our hearts, to our deepest desires for love, and willing and able even in hard moments to choose vulnerability over fear.
So this will be our practice today. Turning the lens on the telescope back on the telescope itself and investigating it from the inside out. I encourage you to be playful with whatever arises. Question it. Question yourself. Notice the thoughts and the spaces between them. Notice your liking and disliking and the relationship between what happens in the mind and the body. This can be an incredibly fun and playful practice if we simply open ourselves into our own not-knowing. So, what’s in that mind today?