Teaching the second class of a Mindfulness Program this afternoon was just what I needed. My journey to the venue had not been the most straightforward, and my week feels to have been anything but. Practising alongside a small group of enthusiastic and engaged beginners was both a pleasure, and a privilege. Whenever I teach, I am humbled. Learning this practice not only changed my life; it saved it.
Last month I treated myself by attending a day-long workshop about Mindfulness of the Body. It was led by a double act whom between them know more than I could ever hope to about mindfulness and the philosophy underlying the approach. Theirs is a very special wisdom - for it arises from a very real, lived, experience, and their teachings are, I know, firmly rooted within their own established practices.
Their insight is also drawn from an in depth understanding of the ancient lineage of the practices that have now been secularised and popularised. Throughout the day I was reminded that the dialogue about mindfulness and what, exactly, it is, is far from complete. It has only just begun.
Mindfulness is a highly nuanced term that emerged in the 1880s as scholars began to translate the original texts, and came across the Pali word 'sati'. Mindfulness is in fact a short hand for something rather different - sati, in fact, means remembrance or recollection.
This afternoon I was reminded of this, as I sat briefly before the start of the class, waiting for the last couple of participants to arrive in the studio. I sat there, gathering and re-collecting myself. Each time we practice, we have an opportunity to take that which is scattered and fragmented, and re-collect. All of our experience is at our disposal, and when we recollect it, we stand a better chance of putting it to good use.
Mindfulness might be summarised as present moment recollection and present moment awareness.
Mindfulness is active. It is a deliberate, and focused form of attention directed towards an object. It requires a steadying of the mind to both engage with an intended focus, and (especially if we are new to formal practice), a toolbox of strategies to sustain that quality of attention.
What is happening right now, in this present moment? What is there, rising and falling, arising and passing away in the physical and mental continuum?
Buddha (not that that was what he called himself) was an empiricist. He was interested in the alleviation of suffering and encouraged people to get into their experience, moving away from the metaphysical speculation and into the actual, physical domain. He invited them to enter the laboratory of the body.
And this is exactly what we were doing in class.
This is meditation: close your eyes and welcome to the madness!
My next program starts on 11 January 2014.
Please visit my website for further details.