Application of Mindfulness in the West. Part One of Two
25 Expressions of the Power of Mindfulness to Contribute to Wisdom
Mindfulness of Information and Entertainment Technology
Facing the real world or escape into gadgets?
The application and practice of mindfulness has become a major branch in Western psychology since the 1990’s. There is a wide body of scientific literature, research in neuroscience and practical manuals/textbooks/self-help books available on the benefits of mindfulness for the reduction of stress, anxiety and physical pain.
People worldwide attend thousands of workshops, courses, training programmes, residential and non-residential. Teachers and facilitators apply mindfulness to support small children, teenagers, parents and senior citizens of all backgrounds and cultures. Mindfulness offers practical approaches to mindfulness to addictive patterns such as eating disorders, self-blame, and depressed states of mind. The methods and techniques point the way to dissolving anger, problematic desires and overcoming fears.
Psychologists trained in mindfulness offer the tools to empower clients and patients to work with emotional, addictive and physically painful experiences.
The schools of mindfulness in Western psychology acknowledge that the Buddha strongly emphasized the importance of mindfulness in numerous discourses but secular mindfulness avoids encouraging clients and patients to explore the expanse of the Buddha’s teachings. There is an understandable concern that it would appear to be promoting Buddhism through the back door, so to speak.
The ethics of non-harming, moderation of lifestyle, loving kindness and depths of meditation make an immense contribution to inner peace, insights and emotional intelligence. Such practices point to a liberating wisdom. Practitioners benefit immensely through their sharing of experiences with the wise. The wise stay steady and focused on a liberated way of life and have a profound role in the Sangha.
Ethics gives support to mindfulness and meditation. We experience greater happiness through not causing harm nor supporting harm to people and animals. Asked by Ananda, his attendant, about the virtues of ethics, the Buddha replied:
Those who live a life of virtuous ways of conduct experience non-remorse as the benefit and reward.
Those who experience benefit and reward of non-remorse experience gladness.
Those who experience gladness can experience meditative concentration.
The benefit of a concentrated mind is the capacity to see and know things as they have become
and this brings knowledge and vision of liberation.
In this way, virtue leads to the highest.
Inner happiness makes it much easier to develop mindfulness, concentration and go deep in meditation. Ethics belong to mindfulness like roots belong to a tree. Without this wider context, such as ethics, the practice of mindfulness alone and meditation can seriously contradict the Dharma.
An extreme example of this took place some years ago when an army general contacted a mindfulness/insight meditation teacher about teaching soldiers to handle pain in a cramped position during a battle. The general had heard of the capacity of Dharma practitioners to sit utterly still for extended periods of time in a state of calm abiding without reacting against the arising of painful bodily sensations. The army officer asked the teacher to exclude all references to the ethics of non-harming. Similarly, a multi-national corporation wanted the staff to develop mindfulness and concentration to improve efficiency, productivity and profit for their environmentally harmful products.
The company had received a report that Buddhist retreats enabled participants to develop high levels of concentration and equanimity under pressure. The personnel officer for the company advised the teacher not to make any reference to the company’s products.
The teacher told the army general that ethics belonged to mindfulness and secondly, the generals would first have to sit a retreat before giving orders to junior officers and soldiers to attend a course. The second teacher told the corporation that Dharma developed compassion for all sentient beings. The general and the corporation did not get back to the teachers.
Psychologists generally define such mindfulness for secular society as being “one’s complete attention to the present moment in a non-judgmental way.” There are limits to this narrow definition of mindfulness as it can undermine the making of judgments. Clear comprehension accompanies mindfulness.
25 Expressions of the Power of Mindfulness to Contribute to Wisdom
In alphabetical order:
Mindfulness applies equally to being and doing.
Mindfulness contributes to inner steadiness when faced with difficulties.
Mindfulness develops and expresses appreciation and gratitude.
Mindfulness embraces the general and the specific, the bigger picture and the detail.
Mindfulness examines intention, action and result. Mindfulness responds to what is.
Mindfulness includes the art of listening to discern what is valuable and insightful.
Mindfulness is a limb in the body of total awakening.
Mindfulness is a mental faculty and a power of mind to develop.
Mindfulness is a tool to transform self-centred pursuit of pleasure, negativity and fear.
Mindfulness makes wise judgements and prevents the manipulation of our attention.
Mindfulness refers to four applications, body, feelings, states of mind and Dharma.
Mindfulness refers to our capacity to see clearly what is happening.
Mindfulness reveals a clear comprehension of change, initiated or not.
Mindfulness reveals what is common between self and others.
Mindfulness saves falling prey to selfish desire, exploitation and indifference
Mindfulness sees clearly the present and our direction.
Mindfulness serves as an important step towards overcoming grief, despair and pain.
Mindfulness shows a genuine sense of responsibility for what we know.
Mindfulness with inquiry examines causes and conditions for suffering.
Mindfulness works to reduce stress, anxiety and physical pain.
Mindfulness, awareness or clear attention can mean inter-changeable concepts.
Right mindfulness includes wholesome intentions to inquire into suffering.
The Buddha distinguished right or healthy mindfulness from harmful mindfulness.
The Buddha said: “Mindfulness is applied to the extent necessary in order to abide without needing to lean on anything in the world” – either inwardly or outwardly.
Wholesome intentions give support to mindfulness to inquire and change situations, inner and outer, personal and institutional.
MINDFULNESS ON INFORMATION AND ENTERTAINMENT TECHNOLOGY
I went with a friend to watch William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth in the open air at Dartington Trust, near Totnes, Devon, UK, where I live. We, the audience, were cast into the 16th century Elizabethan period and the dramatic story of Scottish war hero Macbeth, who, with his scheming, power hungry wife, murdered the kindly King of Scotland. The play reminds us:
And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
Win us with honest trifles, to betrays
In deepest consequence.
These four lines remind us how easily we persuade ourselves or others to bring about harm through grasping onto desires and anger and see demands as truths. We honestly believe what we tell ourselves or others tell us, even if it is a trifling matter. This brings about a betrayal of truth that has deep consequences.
I had a trifling lapse in mindfulness. Before the play, I forgot to turn off my mobile phone. I use it very sparingly. I perhaps get around three messages a day. My mobile phone suddenly rang in the middle of the play. I fumbled quickly in my pocket to switch it off. I was suddenly cast back into the current century.
Sadly, the audience were also brought back to the present, as well as the actors. Oops. Ah, the mobile phone – an instrument of darkness with honest trifles. A small event can violate a silence, a sacred moment a receptivity through eyes and ears. The consequence can impact on ourselves and others – sometimes even more on others. Authentic mindfulness never narrows itself down to self-interest but reveals empathy for others at the same time.
It takes mindfulness and clear comprehension with modern technology, such as television, radio, DAB, CDs, MP3 players, desktop computers, laptop computers, internet, Facebook, You Tube, mobile phone, smart phone, I-pad, Twitter, blog, You Tube, Kindle, I Pad and so on. Consumers can spend many hours daily moving between some or all of these forms of communication at work, home and elsewhere.
Daily life can become a series of superficial contacts, peripheral exchanges or pursuits of information with consciousness constantly occupied with light pleasant sensations. These gadgets have a practical benefit but excessive and compulsive use makes consumers a slave to information and entertainment rather than making the gadgets the servant of the user.
One woman told me: “My husband’s computer became the ‘other woman’ at home. We barely communicated. He spent far more time with his hands on his beloved perched on his desk. I gave up. We are now divorced. He seemed to have no interest to be mindful and caring of the woman he lived with.
I spoke to him several times over months about the lack of sharing at home. I did not get angry but quietly explained how I felt. He took me for granted. I gave him notice that I would end the marriage. He didn’t believe me. I ended it. I started a new life. Despite his pleas after I had gone, I had no interest to go back to him. I started to enjoy a new way of life.
I find I can engage in the writing of an article on my computer, and then an impulse comes to check my emails or go on the Internet to check out something totally unrelated to the article. If I follow through every time on the impulse, it becomes a habit. If I follow through every time the impulse arises, then it is an addiction to emails, Facebook, You Tube or whatever.
A clear mindfulness of situation stops the impulse before it takes a hold. Then there is a clear choice whether to make a change from the immediate priority or to stay focussed on the present task. Undistracted mindfulness/concentration can offer steadiness in an activity that one values. One still has to question: Is this object of interest at the expense of somebody else?
Facing the real world or escape into gadgets?
How much time daily is spent using gadgets?
What is the cost?
Is their avoidance of real contact with the sensual world?
Do gadgets obstruct the presence of love, action and intimacy?
Is technology an escape from reality?
Is the outdoors a real feature of daily life?
Do we meditate on contact with the Earth, sky, trees, wind and water.
Do we immerse ourselves in countless expressions of nature?
Do we engage in various challenges?
Do we initiative adventure in our life?
Can we focus on a single plant at home?
Can we develop a deep sense of interconnectedness?
Mindfulness includes listening to the various depths within – silence, the sense of real presence, times of stillness and calm, as well as depths of painful emotions and concerns. Calm meditation exposes connection with outbursts of creativity, insights and a fresh vision.
The influence of technology on consciousness deserves personal attention. Corporations endeavour to persuade consumers of the importance of these gadgets and have little interest to remind consumers of the impact of such frequent use over years on mind/body processes. They sometimes issue health warnings about excessive use of equipment.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness through technology pales away compared to direct, immediate contact that gives the opportunity to sense and understand the whole person through the senses and sensitivities. Mobile phone calls often interrupt the intimacy of a one to one with another. Our practice maximises a calm and clear sense of presence in the real world and we remain deeply vigilant about excessive use of technology.
Calmness and mindfulness enable us to explore our relationship to past, present and future with projections fears. The practices release a quiet inner confidence that we have the capacity to handle situations. We experience the benefits of letting go, of being anchored and responding wisely to events.
The West has never had the knowledge nor skills to offer fresh ways of looking at events or offered methods and techniques to handle difficult situations. To its credit, the Buddhist tradition in the East recognised the immense benefits of teachings and practices for an ethical, clear and compassionate way of life. The religion of Buddhism acted like a pod around the peas.
We have much to be grateful for in terms of the Buddhist tradition. There is a place for the Buddhism in the West and there is a place for teachings and practices – the peas without reference to the pod.
The exploration and power of the Dharma is only just getting underway in the West.
End of Part One of Two
This article is a chapter from an upcoming book
Titled: The Buddha in the West.
Sub-titled. A View of Transmission over 45 years.