We are entering into the third foundation: mindfulness of the mind.
As we progress on the path, the link between the body and the states of our heart and mind becomes evident.
We started this series of lectures by going into some depth on the body’s role in establishing mindfulness. We learned how the somatic experience of being in the body can take us out of the trance-like state of concepts and incessant thinking and doing – and into presence, into the lived reality of this moment. We acknowledged resistance to this raw experience and learned how to address the escape strategies of the mind.
📖 FOUNDATION #2: Mindfulness of feelings
The second foundation revealed the subconscious reactions to bodily sensations. We discovered how escape strategies lead to conditioning that traps us. We also learned how to reverse the process by learning to stay with mindful awareness, without judgement and reaction.
The third foundation help us understand mind states as the result of conditioning. We gain the tools to deal with these states and eventually transform them.
Awareness of the “Heartmind“
What does “the mind” refer to in this context? Put simply, this foundation is about bringing mindfulness to our mind states and moods as we move through life. The term in Pali is citta, and is often translated as “mind”, or “consciousness”. But it should not be equated with thoughts or purely mental activity. The term citta encompasses both heart and mind (we see the same in Japanese kokoro). Given the context of this discourse, I believe a more helpful translation of citta would be “heartmind”.
Fundamentally, this third foundation is about bringing mindfulness to the nature of the “heartmind” as a way of liberation and method for cultivating joy and compassion.
First: check the fridge
The practice is to examine what is in our hearts and minds with loving awareness, moment by moment. We start by learning to notice and examine our moods. This helps to remind ourselves of our intention and the states of mind that we wish to cultivate in our lives.
Dharma teacher Larry Ward likens this process to examining the contents of our fridge. We open the door, look inside and ask ourselves whether this is what we want to feed ourselves. In this the food I would like to share with others and bring forth into this world?
Take an inventory of your heart and mind in this moment. What moods are present? What is you state of mind? Is this the mood you wish to cultivate in life? Is it inline with your intentions?
Examining the three Poisons
We don’t want poisonous foods in our fridge. In just the same way, we want to clear our “heartmind” from harmful states and habits.
So going back to the discourse, how do we bring mindfulness to cittā? The contemplation begins by becoming aware of when three particular mind states are present, and when they are absent. These are lust, hatred and ignorance – what are called “the three poisons”, or “unwholesome” states of mind.
“How to contemple cittā?“
“Here, one understands the cittā with lust, as with lust; the cittā without lust, as without lust; the cittā with hate, as with hate; the cittā without hate, as without hate; the cittā with ignorance, as with ignorance; the cittā without ignorance, as without ignorance.
Craving is often experienced as “being in the grip” of lust. To which degree is your minds is driven by craving? Can you become curious to the arising of craving? How long does it last? What happens when you act on it? What happens when you don’t? Can you become aware when it passes? How do you feel when it is absent?
Anger or hatred typically has the energetic quality of burning like fire or “pushing away”. How does hatred show up in your life? In general, it is a feeling that reality should be different than it is. We may blame ourselves or somebody else. It may be strong or subtle. How does it feel in the body? How does it feel after it has passed?
Ignorance sometimes feels like being caught in a net of confusion or walking in circles.
This happens when we ignore parts of our experience, typically feelings of neutrality. To what extent are you driven by automatic reactions to restlessness or boredom? How often do you distract yourselves from mundane experiences? What impact does this have on your life? Can you see this as a type of confusion arising from a lack of mindfulness? What is behind this impulse? How does it feel when you are caught in this net? Can you be aware of the body in these moments? How do you experience the absence of ignorance?
Connecting the dots
☝ Remember: “We cannot change what we are not aware of”
Think of mindfulness as becoming aware of a lens that you have been looking through unknowingly. This awareness enables you to deal with the distorted lens rather than trying to fix the whole world that you see looking through it. (“The Tools” is a story that exemplifies this.)
We are beginning to see the natural progression through the foundations. In the contemplation of vedana, we identified these states as patterns of mind that get strengthened through subconscious reactions to the feeling tones that manifest in the body. We are now turning our attention to the connection between ignorance of these hedonic tones and the unwholesome mind states this gives rise to.
We could say that the second foundation is about deconditioning the mind by pulling the plug on reactive patterns. The third foundation is about learning to deal with these mind states once they manifest in our consciousness due to the momentum of our conditioning.
Loving the ugly side
Seeing the “ugliness” inside of ourselves can easily lead to discouragement and self judgement. We jump from experiencing hatred in the mind, to believing we are hateful people. This simply leads to more feelings of guilt and shame, and does nothing to decrease the hatred.
As Joseph Goldstein points out, “unwholesome” does not mean immoral. It is not wrong that they occur. It means they take us away from happiness. They are not a wholesome meal. So the point is not to judge ourselves for having these states of mind or to fight them. The way to transform the destructive mind patterns is to acknowledge them and hold them in loving awareness.
Acknowledging poisonous mind states is not the same as acting them out. Quite the opposite. When we shine a light on them, they lose their power to control us. Or as Dan Siegel says, we “name them to tame them”. Embracing these mental states with compassion sets the stage for transformation.
Restocking the fridge and nourishing the heartmind
With the right tools and support, we learn to face the content of our “heartmind” without judgement. As we do, certain insights appear. We begin to see the “mind poisons” as visitors. They are not intrinsic to our being. Seeing their transient nature reveals gaps between them.
In the absence of unwholesome mind state, the wholesome counterpart is automatically present. In the absence of greed, there is generosity. In the absence of hatred, there is compassion. In the absence of confusion, there is clarity and insight. This points to the inherent, essential, wholesome quality of our inner being. This is how we begin to restock the fridge with wholesome ingredients.
Mindfulness of thoughts – 18 minute guided practice:
In our next adventure, we will learn how to work with additional mind states. We will also learn the art of balance. Get ready to expand your mindfulness toolkit and dive even deeper into the heart of awareness.