The Refrain: On Feelings and MInd

Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening (pp. 111-118) 

“In this way, in regard to the body [feelings, mind, dhammas] one abides contemplating the body [feelings, mind, dhammas] internally, or one abides contemplating externally, or one abides contemplating both internally and externally. One abides contemplating the nature of arising in the body [feelings, mind, dhammas] . . . the nature of passing away in . . . or the nature of both arising and passing away in. Mindfulness that ‘there is a body’ [feelings, mind, dhammas] is established in one to the extent necessary for bare knowledge and continuous mindfulness. And one abides independent, not clinging to anything in the world. . . .”  Goldstein, Joseph. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening (p. 17).

The Refrain

In the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, the Buddha states the refrain thirteen different times to emphasize the most crucial aspects of meditation practice as they pertain to each foundation (body, feelings, mind, dhammas).  For the second and third foundations, feelings and mind states respectively, there are some specific points regarding contemplating internally and externally, arising and passing away, establishing bare knowledge, establishing continuity of mindfulness, and abiding independently.

Practicing Mindfulness Internally and Externally

Practicing mindfulness is not just focusing on our own experience; it is also opening up to the experiences of others.  The Buddha reminds us of this using the terms internal to mean our own experience and external to refer to the experiences of others.

In the previous talks on mindfulness of feelings and mental states, we have focus on our own experiences.  To be mindful of the experiences of others in regard to feelings and mind states, we observe in others whether or not they are experiencing pleasant or unpleasant feelings or unwholesome or wholesome mind states.  We can’t read others’ minds but we can infer from our own feelings and mental states, what might be going on.  By making these mindful observations, we feel compassion and sympathetic joy for others rather than resentment, jealously, or anger.  In this way, we develop wholesome mind states for ourselves.

In the mindful observation of the feelings and mind states of others, we can also gain insight into our own conditioning and reactivity.  It is well known that what we react to in others is often what we have least accepted in ourselves.  This is called our shadow side because we are not fully conscious of its presence.

“Reactions to others can be a powerful mindfulness bell, reminding us to pay attention. There is a lot to observe at those times. We can become mindful of our own reactive mind states, such as impatience, anger, or fear. We can then become mindful of the bodily actions, feelings, or mind states of others that have triggered our reactions, noticing if we’re also reactive to those same qualities in ourselves. And then we can pay attention to what happens as we settle into a mindful awareness of all these things.”  Goldstein, Joseph. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening

Goldstein notes that “Our practice is to be aware of whatever there is, whether within (internally) or without (externally), and in the end go beyond this division altogether.”  “In practicing mindfulness internally, externally, and both internally and externally, we begin opening to the understanding of anattā, the empty, selfless nature of feelings and all experience. We shift our understanding from “I’m having a pleasant feeling” or “She is having a pleasant feeling” to “There is a pleasant feeling.” As Anālayo points out, in this contemplation, the boundaries of “I” and “others,” of separate selves, are left behind. It is the experience of phenomena independent of any ownership.”  Goldstein, Joseph. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening.

Arising and Passing Away

All of our experiences arise in the mind and pass away.  This is a continuous process occurring many times during each hour.  Yet, it is easy not to be mindful of this and to be frustrated by all of the change that is occurring (happiness to sadness to boredom to fear to excitement to calm and on and on).  When we ignore this process, we are in a state of delusion.  We are not mindful that all experiences are impermanent.

“We can contemplate the impermanence of these states in several ways. When we focus on their arising nature, we emphasize awareness of the moments when they first appear: anger arises, desire arises, calm arises. We can further understand the impermanent, conditioned arising nature of mind states by seeing what triggers them. We can notice the relationship of thought to emotion and emotion to thought, and how each can powerfully condition the other…. By noticing both the trigger thought and the resultant mind state, we are contemplating the arising nature of these states and stay free in the current of changing experience.  We can also be mindful of the passing away of mind states, emphasizing awareness of the moment when they fall away or disappear.

So often, in the throes of the wanting mind, we feel an urgency to fulfill the desire, that somehow we have to gratify it in order to feel fulfilled. We forget that it is the desire itself that desires, and that the great law of impermanence will resolve it all by itself.”  Goldstein, Joseph. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening

The more that we are mindful that all experiences are impermanent, the less we are driven by them.

Bare Knowing

Goldstein notes that “bare knowledge” here means observing or knowing objectively what is arising, without getting lost in associations, reactions, judgments or evaluations, or, if we do get lost, to then become aware of those states themselves.”  Once we are conscious of an experience, our mind adds to that experience by making judgements, commentary or decisions.  We can only affect this process by being aware that this happens.  “It means letting the mind settle back into noninterfering awareness, just knowing what presents itself. Bare knowledge is the simple and direct experience of knowing what is present, without making up stories about experience.”  Goldstein, Joseph. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening.

Continuity of Mindfulness

In order to maintain our bare awareness, we need to apply effort to repeatedly come back to bare knowing.  This effort is one of the seven factors of enlightenment that we will explore later in the fourth foundation of mindfulness.

“As the continuity of bare knowing becomes stronger, awareness becomes more panoramic. The emphasis moves from mindfulness of the content of the experience to mindfulness of the process of change itself. At this time, there is simply a flow of experience, and the three universal characteristics— impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and selflessness become increasingly vivid.”  Goldstein, Joseph. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening.

Abiding Independent.

“This leads to the last line of the refrain, which summarizes the result of our practice: “And one abides independent, not clinging to anything in the world.” “Abiding independent” means not being dependent on objects of experience through desire or through the view of self, not identifying with anything as being “I” or “mine.” In one discourse, the Buddha said that whoever hears this, has heard all the teachings; whoever practices this, has practiced all the teachings; whoever realizes this, has realized all the teachings. We abide independent, not clinging to anything in the world.”  Goldstein, Joseph. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening.

Practicing Mindfulness with the Refrain

The points noted in the refrain can be beneficial when meditating or reflecting on mindfulness of the body, feelings, mind and dhammas.  As phenomena arise, go through each point as if it were a checklist and see what you experience.


  • Reread this talk and reflect on it.
  • Practice contemplating internally and externally, arising and passing away, establishing bare knowledge, establishing continuity of mindfulness, and abiding independently.


  • Meditate using the mindfulness of the breath technique and focus your insight meditation on states of mind.

Next: Mindfulness of Dhammas: The Hindrances: Introduction
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