Skillful Mindfulness: Mindfulness of the Mind

Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness (pp. 215-216)

Third Foundation of Mindfulness

Mindfulness of the Mind is the Third Foundation of Mindfulness. Mindfulness of the Mind is also called Mindfulness of Consciousness.

What is mind?

“Mind is a non-physical phenomenon that perceives, thinks, recognizes, experiences and reacts.  It is clear and formless, which means that thoughts and other mind objects can arise in it.  It is also described as luminous, which means ‘able to spread light on things’ – in other words, ‘knowing’.”  –Bhante G, Mindfulness in Plain English p. 107 

The mind is also called nama which means all mental processes.

“Isn’t it like being an infinite television screen on which the program is sometimes tragic, sometimes comic, sometimes rough, sometimes mild. Shoot-ups, burnings are all going on without effect on the screen. You don’t have to clean up or repair it after a Wild West program. Isn’t this what you are like, this immaculate, infinite Screen? What are you now but this awake, invulnerable Capacity?”  –Adapted from Douglas Harding 

It is not possible to separate mind or consciousness from whatever one is conscious of (the object).  The objects of consciousness are mind states.  “We know mind only by its contents.” Bhante G., ibid p. 108

Some examples of mind states are:  greedy or nongreedy, hateful or nonhateful,  ignorant or discerning, contracted or expanded, distracted or focused, scattered or concentrated, undeveloped or developed, unliberated or liberated.

These mental states are like all phenomena:  impermanent, unsatisfactory, and of selfless nature.  They come and go with consciousness coming and going at the same time.

Practicing Mindfulness of Mind

Know that your mind is not totally pure when craving arises from greed, hatred or delusion.

Joseph Goldstein suggests two meditations for the Third Foundation of mindfulness. Apply them throughout the day whenever they become relevant.

Bare Attention

The first meditation is to be used when we feel that we are struggling in our practice or in our life, when we are feeling a lack of ease, or when we are efforting in some way.

At that point we stop and become mindful of the mind state that is present. The struggle becomes feedback that something that we are not aware of and are not accepting is going on.

By paying bare attention and accepting what mind state is present, all struggle ceases and the mind feels at ease once again.

What is bare attention? It is “the three bares”:  free of judgment, commentary, decision-making.

Free of Self

The second meditation concerns our emotions. When emotions such as anger, fear, sadness, interest, excitement or happiness arise, we tend to identify with them and they become filters on our experience. We take these moods to be our “self.” It is as if we are looking at the world through colored glasses.

By applying mindfulness to these moods, we see how they are affecting and coloring our awareness. We begin to experience these mind states as free of self. Instead of feeling that “I’m angry, sad, or happy,” the mind states are objectified and the experience tends to be more like noticing that “an angry mind state is present, a sad mind state is present, or a happy mind state is present.”

When the mind is identified with its moods, it is not peaceful or clear. When we train the mind to recognize its moods and not get lost in them, we move closer to the experience of freedom.

“Thus the more you focus on mind itself, the less solid it seems.  Like everything else that exists, it is always changing.  Moreover, you discover, there is no permanent entity; no one is running the movie projector. All is flux, all is flow, all is process.  In reality, who you are is simply this constant flow of changing moments of mind.  Since you cannot control this process, you have no choice but to let go. In letting go, you experience joy and you taste for an instant the freedom and happiness that is the goal of the Buddha’s path.  Then you know that this mind can be used to gain wisdom.”  –Bhante G., p. 216 

Reflection

  • Each day, re-read this talk and reflect on it.
  • Try the two meditations recommended by Joseph Goldstein.  Know that although you cannot experience pure consciousness, you can be aware of the mental states. 

Meditation

  • Take time to meditate each day if only for a little while.

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