In this four-part series, we will be exploring the four foundations of mindfulness together. The information we’ll be exploring has all been discussed on the “Secular Buddhism” podcast, and if you are interested in the matter I would highly recommend checking it out. If you missed part one or part two, they can be found here and here where we focus in on Mindfulness of the Body and Mindfulness of Feelings respectively. But for now, let’s dive back in.
As we know, within the sect of mindfulness, there are four further subdivisions. Today, we’ll be looking at Mindfulness of Mind. This might seem a bit familiar once again to our second foundation, but that’s to be expected. All the mindfulness foundations are interconnected; for now, let’s unpack just what mindfulness of mind really is.
Mindfulness of mind seems a bit redundant at first blush. How can this be its own, separate foundation?
The big difference here is with what we focus in on. Mindfulness of mind asks us to focus on mental states. So specifically, pleasure and pain.
As you might recall, Mindfulness of Feelings had us focus on statements like “I am feeling fear,” or “I am feeling happy.” Mindfulness of Mind focuses instead on clinging and aversion. The idea is that our mental states often go unnoticed and can cause these two subversive states. Unnoticed pleasant states create clinging or craving, while painful states create aversion of hatred.
An example might look like this: Susy has an unseen, painful response to stress. When confronted with stressful situations, Susy may tend to unconsciously avoid the situation or even ignore it. She’ll continue to do this until it passes by or causes some major issue in her life. If the stressors continue to pile up, Susy may grow resentful of the person(s), stimuli, or source of the stress.
Or, we could think of someone with a sweet tooth who regularly craves sweets and unthinkingly indulges themselves. Every time their desire for chocolate enters the mind, the reaction is to simply eat it because of how good it tastes. This too is unwanted, according to the mindfulness principle. The goal with our mindfulness is to remove these actions that we do not first reflect on.
In all cases where a person lacks mindfulness of mind, the response is subconscious. The individual is not thinking deeply on the stressor or pleasure before deciding. Instead, they are confronted by the pain or pleasure and, without any thought, make judgement and act.
Instead, in being mindful, we are asked to notice if we are clinging, craving, or avoiding. These are all states our mind might find itself in, and as is the goal of mindfulness, we want to take notice of what state we find ourselves in.
One of the major benefits of this mindfulness is becoming aware of limitations. If we recognize a stressor that causes fear or aversion, we might be able to work toward changing that. Noticing an issue allows us to work toward a solution. This noticing is what mindfulness is all about.
Finally, keep in mind that just as feelings, mental states pass. What state we are in today is not the state we will always be in. Pains and pleasures change and our states can and will shift over time. What’s important is just to notice them.
We are almost at the conclusion of our exploration of the foundations of mindfulness. Again, if you’re interested in more, please check out “Secular Buddhism” and check back on here for our next segment where we’ll delve a bit into mindfulness of everything.