We are continuing the discourse on the third foundation – mindfulness of heart and mind.
Last time, we talked about the three poisons of lust, hatred, and ignorance, and how they impact our lives. We saw how by paying attention to the presence and absence of these states, we can be more intentional and cultivate a healthy heart-mind.
📖 Mindfulness of mind, part 1
The middle way
The next set of instructions in the discourse is to be aware when the mind is contracted and when it is distracted.
These are states that all of us encounter in our meditation practice. On one side, the mind tends to contract and go inward. We lose energy and there is often a sense of tiredness or sloth. This state makes it difficult to focus with any real clarity. On the other side, our minds become distracted. This is the well-known “monkey mind”, grasping after one thought after another. This state has the quality of restless searching.
We need to find the middle way between contraction and distraction.
Take a breath and check in with yourself. What is the quality of your mind? Does it feel contracted? If so, can you deliberately increase the energy and bring some intentional focus to your experience? Is the mind distracted? If so, can you allow yourself to relax and slow down?
The instructions continue by guiding us to familiarise and differentiate between additional states. Through this process, we learn to locate the state of our minds and re-direct ourselves toward freedom and love.
“How to contemplate the heartmind?”
“One understands the great state of citta as great,
and the state that is not great as not great;
One understands the citta that can become higher as a state that can become higher,
and the perfected state as perfect;
One understands the quite state of citta as quiet,
and the state that is not quiet and not quiet.”
(rough translation of the sutta)
What is the quality of a “great” state of mind? Can you note how it feels and how it affects you?
How does a contracted mind feel? Can you notice its quality without self-judgement?
How does it feel when the mind is free? When there is nothing that needs to be improved. Can you recognise this as a state of freedom without clinging to it?
What is the quality of a mind that is not free? Can you recognise this state of being caught as a “lower state” without aversion?
What is it like when the mind is quite? Can you experience it without holding on?
How does it feel when the mind is not quiet? Can you acknowledge it without judgment?
Embracing it all
These instructions help us recognise and acknowledge what is going on inside our awareness. It is like bringing up a map in order to locate ourselves on the path. We should be careful not to confuse the map for the actual territory. The instructions are there to facilitate our practice and deepen our mindfulness.
We commonly associate certain mind states as being compatible with mindfulness while others not. But the reality is that we can become mindful of any state of mind. The practice is to bring loving awareness to whatever is present in our experience. Nothing is really outside of the practice.
Mindfulness is not about achieving a certain state.
Through mindfulness practice, we learn to differentiate between awareness (“that which is aware”) and the contents of awareness (“what we are aware of”). By staying as awareness, we can be with the ups and downs of life without losing mindfulness.
Cultivating a paradise
By practicing the third foundation of mindfulness, we increase our awareness of the contents of our heartmind. We learn to hold difficulties like a mother lovingly and attentively holding her baby.
When we can bring mindfulness to the unwholesome parts of our mind without creating additional suffering, a shift occurs. We allow mind states to come and go and we recognise what lies beyond. We become aware of awareness itself and touch the innate goodness within ourselves. This starts a process of cultivating a wholesome heartmind.
We do not change the conditioning of the mind overnight.
Just like a gardener studies different seeds and how to cultivate them, we study the nature of our heartmind. We learn to pick the seeds we wish to cultivate. We do not need to manufacture, control or force anything to happen. All we need to do is provide the right circumstances for growth (loving awareness). At first, they need careful attention. But eventually, the plants grow stronger and become more resilient. At that point, we simply step out of our own way and allow the paradise to slowly take form.
Are you ready to live your Dharma? The final foundation of mindfulness takes us into universal truths and penetrates all the way to Nirvana.