The Little Book of Mindfulness Book Previews: 1. The Little Book of Mindfulness, Chapter 1 (Current) 2. The Little Book of Mindfulness, Chapter 2: Finding Peace Within 3. The Little Book of Mindfulness, Chapter 3: Awakening to Your True Nature
The Little Book of Mindfulness
About a month ago I made a major decision. I decided to write my first book. Well, my first two books. Yeah, I'll be writing two books in a row(!?). It's something I knew I would do eventually, but it felt unbelievable in the beginning. Well, writing a book, not two books at once...
I had to get through an overwhelming paralysis at first. The realization that I was writing an entire book, and hopefully completing it over the next month-month and a half was a little heavy at first. The first few days went like this: "OK, you're writing a book....you can start now.....or now....any day now...maybe tomorrow". It took a few days, but eventually the paralysis wore off and I was able to get to work.
In case you're wondering, minus last week my posting schedule will stay the same. Actually, if you include book previews, my posting rate will increase over the course of the next two months. I have dozens of great posts lined up outside of the content for my books that I'd also like to get to. But most of all, I'm excited for these two huge projects which I promise will provide a huge amount of value.
The major foundation of these two books is to be as clear, useful, and applicable in daily life as possible. The content in these two books is written in plain English, explained clearly, there's no use of jargon, and the chapters and content are organized in a way that makes it easy to find answers to common questions and provides tons of useful information.
This is an exclusive preview of my first-ever book, "The Book of Mindfulness: Going from Stressed and Distracted to Happy and Alive". Over the next two weeks, I'll be posting full chapters of the book for you to preview. "The Buddha's Practice" is the first major chapter of the book.
"The Book of Mindfulness" is a book all about mindfulness. Literally top to bottom, this book explains everything there is to know about mindfulness, breaks it down so that it's easy to understand, gives examples of how to practice with full instruction, and I also provide an entire section on ways to fight against old habit energies and develop mindfulness as a practice in your everyday life. And this first book is a short one, it will likely end at around 50 pages. I think that length fits best for a book about a single subject which I want to keep simple and clear.
Keep in mind that the paragraph format below isn't my usual blog post format with short paragraphs and lots of bold on important points. I'm currently writing the book in a very traditional book format, so there will be VERY long paragraphs below. It reads very smoothly in Microsoft Word though so I think you'll enjoy the flow when the book is finished.
I hope you enjoy the first chapter. It's just 5-6 pages in traditional book-length so it's a short read. Feel free to let me know what you think!
The Buddha’s Practice
When the Buddha was asked, "Sir, what do you and your monks practice?" he responded with, "We sit, we walk, and we eat." The man then asked, "But sir, everyone sits, walks, and eats." The Buddha replied, "When we sit, we know we are sitting. When we walk, we know we are walking. When we eat, we know we are eating." This was the Buddha's practice.
But what exactly did he mean by that? What the Buddha was referring to was living fully in the present moment with mindfulness. Living in a way that we’re fully awake to the present moment. To the Buddha, mindfulness was a matter of life or death. But not life or death in a literal sense. Rather, to do something in mindfulness is to become truly alive in that moment.
So, what exactly is mindfulness? In a nutshell, mindfulness can be defined as a complete and nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment or present events. It’s also been defined as “the moment to moment awareness of present events”. In fact, it’s been defined dozens, if not hundreds, of times and most of those definitions suffice. There’s no one agreed upon way of defining mindfulness. This is because mindfulness is a state of being beyond words or concepts. One must practice mindfulness in order to truly understand what mindfulness is. The origin of the word mindfulness is in the Pali word “sati”, and its Sanskrit counterpart “smrti”, which both literally mean “memory”. But perhaps more precisely sati represents “presence of mind” or “attentiveness to the present”. This is what the Buddha was referring to when he said, "When we sit, we know we are sitting. When we walk, we know we are walking. When we eat, we know we are eating." He meant that when the Buddha and his disciples sat, walked, or ate, they were fully present for the act of sitting, walking, or eating.
Even when becoming lost in thought, while practicing mindfulness the practitioner is fully aware that they just became lost in a particular thought and are mindful of the thought itself. This is because mindfulness isn’t just mindfulness of an object in the present moment such as one's breath, steps, or food. It’s also mindfulness of anything which might arise in the present moment while concentrating on an object. In a way, mindfulness is the observer of change. While concentrating on the object of meditation, such as one’s breath or steps, we become distracted by thoughts, feelings, and other sensations. These are “changes” in the field of mindfulness, the area which mindfulness observes. In this way think of mindfulness as a motion detector. If nothing moves, if nothing changes, then nothing is detected. The practitioner just continues to concentrate in mindfulness on the object of meditation until a thought, feeling, or some other sensation arises. This is when the real work begins.
Mindfulness is a complete and nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment or present events.
Think of mindfulness as a “field of attention” with a point of concentration in the center acting as an anchor to the present, rather than just a pointed concentration on something while pushing away everything else around you. Imagine a dream catcher. The idea behind a dream catcher is it’s supposed to “catch” your bad dreams as you’re sleeping. Just as a dream catcher catches your bad dreams, imagine each thought, feeling, and sensation being caught by your “field of mindfulness”. While in mindfulness, each thought, feeling, and sensation that arises automatically enters into this field of mindfulness and, this is the important part, is gently acknowledged and accepted “as it is”. By “as it is” I mean without judging it in any way.
If this is hard to imagine, don’t worry. For the most part, this nonjudgmental awareness happens naturally when you practice mindfulness correctly. The important thing to remember for now is that mindfulness is not a rejection of anything. Mindfulness is an open acceptance of everything that comes into your awareness. If you’re practicing mindful breathing, don’t reject thoughts that come into your mind just because they interrupt your mindful breathing. Observing these thoughts, which are typically unnoticed but always dispersing our awareness and coloring our perception, is a major point of mindfulness. So this is perfectly fine. Simply acknowledge the thought in mindfulness, just as you were doing with your breath, and then let the thought pass. Then bring your focus back to your breath. As time goes on the distractions will lessen and your ability to concentrate on one point for a period of time will improve. And with it, the quality of your mindfulness practice will improve as well.
Mindfulness has a number of different “qualities”. Like anything else, if you break it down into parts it becomes much easier to understand. We’ve covered the basic concept and workings of mindfulness so far, but in order to gain a deeper understanding of mindfulness let’s break it down and look at each quality individually. There are 5 key aspects of mindfulness which I’ll cover below.
- Mindfulness of something-Mindfulness is always mindfulness of something. It’s not just a conscious directing of your awareness to the present moment, it’s a conscious directing of your awareness to something which is occurring or existing in the present moment. Common centers of focus are your breath, steps, or some other area or areas of the body. Concentration, or Samadhi in Sanskrit, is a force which works in tandem with mindfulness. Concentration is “single-pointedness of mind” and it’s just that- the act of focusing on a single point. While practicing mindfulness you will be developing your power of concentration as well as your mindfulness. There is no separating mindfulness and concentration. They are partners on the path to attaining a tranquil and clear mind. Think of concentration as the “hard” force and mindfulness as the “soft”. Concentration is exactly what it sounds like, it’s the forceful act of focusing on a single point. Imagine your field of mindfulness enveloping everything within your perception in a soft glow. Next, imagine a thin line piercing out from your mindfulness directly to an object. This is your concentration. Mindfulness, on the other hand, is a sort of soft awareness. Remember the dream catcher? Mindfulness is the field of awareness which then “sees” everything that arises while concentrating on an object. Mindfulness is what notices when your concentration lapses and your thoughts stray. Think of mindfulness as the ultimate, voiceless, and nonjudgmental observer. It judges nothing. It makes no distinctions. It simply observes everything that comes into its field of awareness. Your concentration, the force anchoring your mindfulness to some object in the present moment (the object of meditation), is the instrument of mindfulness. Mindfulness decides where the point of concentration will be. It observes the anchor point (the point of your concentration), notices when concentration strays and where it strays to. This might be difficult to imagine at first, but for now just know that the act of practicing mindfulness will feel much like concentrating on an object, such as your breathing, and then doing your best to notice when your thoughts stray. Just being able to notice when you’re thoughts stray will take some time. In the beginning, your practice will look and feel like this: 1) concentrate on your breath, 2) lose concentration, sometimes aware of the thought you strayed to, most of the time not, 3) back to concentrating on your breathing. That’s it. But after a while, you will begin to notice these thoughts more often and more clearly and then be able to acknowledge them with mindfulness.
- Mindfulness of something in the present moment- Moving on from the last point, mindfulness is always mindfulness of something in the present moment. But it doesn’t have to be something existing in the physical world. As we spoke about earlier, it can be mindfulness of thoughts that arise in the present moment while practicing mindfulness of breath, body, or some external object. What mindfulness isn’t is reflecting on the past or thinking about the future. When reflecting on the past or thinking about the future you are consciously directing your attention to the past, future, or some altogether imagined place. Therefore it’s not something which exists in the present moment. Mindfulness is always the observing of what is occurring in the present moment. As we go about our daily lives, we often don’t notice how our perception or mental filters, such as bias, affect how we see the world around us. And we think that what we’re thinking and seeing with our eyes are two different things. But they aren’t. What we see with our eyes passes through our perception before we even realize we see the object. It’s like we have an internal checkpoint which we’ve built up from our life experiences. And this checkpoint is filled with both good and bad things which “color” our perception and affect our experiences. Imagine someone offers you a piece of food which you’ve never tried before. This food somewhat resembles, say, Brussel sprouts (bleh!). As soon as you lay eyes on it, you have a negative sensation. Maybe you get a bad taste in your mouth, your body cringes a little, and a bad memory of eating Brussel sprouts flashes into your mind. This new food item could be amazing. You have no idea if it is or isn’t. You’ve never actually tried it. But your perception has already completely colored the experience for you to the point where it will actually affect how it will taste. This is an example of how our perception colors everything around us. Everything you perceive is your mind. You might think you’re observing your breath, a Brussel sprout, or a flower. But what you’re really observing is your perception of those things. Mindfulness is about observing what is occurring in the present moment so that you can pierce through your wrong perceptions to eventually witness reality as it is without any mental filters getting in the way. This is why mindfulness is mindfulness of something in the present moment. The point of mindfulness is to experience reality as it is. Truly free, unbound, and able to experience reality in all its beauty.
- A conscious decision-Mindfulness is a purposeful directing of your consciousness to the present, it doesn’t happen on accident. To be fully awake to the present moment you have to decide “I am fully awake to this moment” by directing your consciousness to an object in the present moment. You decide to be mindful in any given moment. It doesn’t happen on accident. I mentioned earlier how the point of your concentration, or object of meditation, works as your anchor point to the present moment. The starting point for the anchor and the eventual anchor point is this conscious decision. Think of mindfulness as a ship and you’re the captain. You make the conscious decision to place the anchor down and where to place it. You then throw the anchor, your concentration, off the ship. The anchor then hits the intended anchor point, or object of meditation, where it will rest. Of course, at first, this anchor won’t be very strong. It will be made of, say, plastic. Not a very good anchor. But with time it will develop into a heavy and resilient anchor.
- Nonjudgmental awareness- All spiritual practice in an overall sense is about finding true peace and happiness through accomplishing total liberation (or freedom). And we become liberated by discovering the truth. That is, by uncovering all false views and any other negative forces in our life. This is the ultimate purpose of mindfulness. It’s this nonjudgmental awareness that makes mindfulness so important in finding true peace and happiness. Mindfulness accepts everything as it is. As I mentioned earlier it makes no distinctions, holds no bias, and is completely separated from all other mental filters which distort your perception of reality. Mindfulness allows you to experience true reality. This is liberation. As I mentioned earlier, if you’re not sure how to do this at first then don’t worry. Mindfulness is itself nonjudgmental. It’s helpful to keep this point in mind at times, but you’ll find this will happen somewhat naturally. If you sense bias or get the feeling that you’re somehow coloring your perception of something while practicing then this is a good thing. Simply by noticing this it means you’re becoming mindful of your various mental filters. If this happens, know that you’re on the right path. As always, simply acknowledge it and bring yourself back to your object of meditation. It’s not bad that you lose your concentration. It’s only bad if you don’t observe with mindfulness what distracted you.
- Developed like a muscle- Mindfulness works like a muscle. In the beginning, your energy of mindfulness will be very weak. But over time your mindfulness will strengthen and you will notice a significant difference both in your ability to concentrate and in your ability to see with mindfulness. This is important to know at the beginning because it’s at the very beginning stages where things are most difficult. While trying to establish the practice of mindfulness as a part of your life you’ll be constantly fighting old habits. In Buddhism, this is sometimes called “habit energy”. Imagine everything you do carries with it a certain energy. The more you do something the more energy it develops, and with it, the more “pull” it has. You can develop energy anywhere in your life. In both positive and negative places. So when starting out don’t become discouraged when you’re having a hard time sticking to your mindfulness practice, such as when you forget to practice for an entire day altogether. I went through this constantly at first and it’s just going to be a battle. There are no two ways about it. Part 3 is all about helping you develop mindfulness in your daily life and it includes some great tips and tricks all of which I’ve used to develop my own practice of mindfulness.
Mindfulness, which has been practiced for over 2,500 years by the Buddha and his long lineage of disciples, as well as many other spiritual traditions (whether they call it mindfulness or not), isn’t the only key to spiritual awakening or even just a healthy spiritual practice. But it is one of the major, if not the major, cornerstones of a nourishing and healing spiritual practice which leads to true peace and happiness.