Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Way It Is

Ajahn Sumedho observing the way it is.

The Buddhist monk Ajahn Sumedho has often emphasized seeing the true nature of things and being able to say, “This is the way it is.” This can be done by simply observing the body, with all its myriad sensations and movements. This is done without thinking, "My body is doing this," or "My body is feeling this," but with an impersonal attitude towards its current condition: "This body is doing this," and "This body is feeling this." Without adopting a personality viewpoint, we can observe ‘the way it is’ by witnessing the body’s breathing, its posture, and just noticing how it is now, in this moment. This is the path of mindfulness, of being awake to the reality of the human form.

Being alert to this body is a basic mindfulness practice taught by the Buddha back in India over 2, 500 years ago, remaining conscious of its every move whether walking, standing, sitting, or lying down. Ajahn Sumedho promotes an understanding of ‘the way it is’ through mindfulness as a means to liberate ourselves from the negative thoughts and habits that condition our lives. A practical upshot of such alertness is that we’re less likely to make mistakes as we won’t be so distracted or absent minded. How many times have you stubbed your toe on a doorway, chair or table leg due to thinking about something else and not being conscious of where you were placing your feet? I’ve done it innumerable times – a painful reminder of the dangers of heedlessness!

Avoiding throbbing toes is but one advantage of a more aware mind: a much more profound benefit is the insight that can develop from being cognizant of our bodily movements and feelings. This insight involves the realization that the body is truly not ours; it is of nature, and is the result of natural processes, most of which are out of our control. Whilst we can direct the body to do this or that action, within natural limits of course, we cannot prevent it from ever being ill, from aging, and ultimately from dying. Watching our physical condition can open a door onto the true nature of the body, that it is impermanent, unsatisfactory, and not self (the three characteristics of existence).

As well as the body, Ajahn Sumedho advises us to be heedful of the state of our minds, and this too was a frequent subject for reflection in the sermons of the Buddha. The mind’s moods, whether it is dull or bright, happy or sad, are conditions that we can know; the empty mind, also, free of the myriad thoughts and feelings about the self and others can be known. It can be seen to be both intelligent and compassionate. If we are willing to go through boredom, miserable feelings, and other forms of suffering, the mind will become clearer, bearing with negative mind states rather than suppressing them. Ajahn Sumedho sees this as an opportunity to recognize that this is the way that it is at this time, at this place, and by doing so, wisdom will grow.

Knowing the mind as it is now means that we’re less likely to drift off into unhelpful reveries that take us away from the natural ability of the mind to find solutions to the every day problems that arise in all our lives. As Ajahn Sumedho has often reminded us, this doesn’t mean that we’re taking the easy option by becoming more mindful, for in doing so we will undoubtedly discover the negative states of our minds as well as the positive. But becoming more aware of such mental conditions will enable us to deal with them better, allowing an understanding to arise that can encourage us to let go of them and cultivate more beneficial psychological attitudes. And we might stub our toes less often too!


Was Once said...

My personal experience I found it was beneficial to start mindfulness in meditation, get a feeling for it for a few years before it began to appear in daily life on occasions. When you first observe anger as it arises, and act in way that is beneficial to a positive out come, you begin to have a sense that this can be a much better understanding of "the way things are'. Unless you are naturally mindful from a young age.

G said...

Sound advice. Whether we start with mindfulness or meditation, finding the balance between them is important. Thanks for the insight.