A Buddhism Primer – “Right Mindfulness” or Detach and Enjoy

Part One – destination MFN

In this mini-talk I’ll reiterate “destination MFN” and touch on simplicity and “right mindfulness” (as there is, by the way, “wrong mindfulness” which Mushim pointed me towards).

Mindfulness (or as I like to abbreviate it as an airport code “MFN”) is about trying to see things as they are, something not easily done by just looking, but by becoming aware of how we use our desires of “right and wrong, good or bad, happy or unhappy” to put some order to the universe – and thus creating separation between this “me” and the world of “us,” shoring up the belief that there’s permanence, and searching for that ultimate mythical unicorn: perfection.

Mindfulness is the constant looking at, and the awareness of, the present happenings in one’s body, mind and consciousness. We focus on the “four contemplations” – body, feelings, mind, and phenomena – and attempt to subscribe to them as little substance as possible, we are more aware of the characteristics of existence:  imperfection, temporariness, and egolessness.

When we detach from the materialness of life: attaching meaning to objects, feelings, thoughts, sensations (just to name a few): the more we practice, the more we gain a form of passive control over our thoughts (science now teaches us that the physical brain changes with more meditation practice); we are less reactive to our desires and impulses, and you can gradually harvest an experience of detached awareness.

Or as Neo said in the movie The Matrix, “There is no spoon.”

But let’s be real: the trained mind is just gonna DO JUST THAT: Judge and categorize. It’s going to do, what the mind does so well: like a child fed too much sugar is going to do what it’s going to do.

The mind does what it does best: attempts to make sense of everything by putting it into a current cultural construct – we are the judging fish in the water of culture. What it would be like to be in the US 100 years ago – different culture anyone? If we lived then we’d adapt to the expectations and aspirations of that time and place.

Point being: be kind to yourself. You are the fish. Our culture is the water.

We drink it.

Part Two – Simplicity – Less is More

The simpler I make my habits to possess judgements, thoughts, stuff, responsibilities, and attachments (of all kinds) the more happiness or freedom I find. Just yesterday morning my roommate and I cleaned the house. Often I’m drawn to the idea of shaving my head (no more haircuts that cost money) and giving everything away just like, as an site manager for a non-profit, I came up the the rhyme: “When in doubt, throw it out.”

Generally if I find a “middle way,” and give away a some stuff and hold off on pulling a “shave my head today get a dump truck session” I find that the middle path of less stuff and more balance creates more peace. Or as Feng Shi preaches: get rid of shit and you’ll have more Qi in your home. More flow.

Because of my disability I’m called to slow down and appreciate more, the focus being less. I can find misery in my chronic exhaustion or acceptance in daily napping. Given my bodies teaching, and using my practice to assist with the suffering of this mind/body (which is so easily overwhelmed and in brain fog), ultimately leeds my brain, mind, body and habits to shift – so that I am in less in autopilot and more in awareness.

Less in letting life happen and more in watching life happen. Less in clinging, more in allowing. Less in having stuff have me and more in having the space of a home filled with calm and not with stuff. Or as I like to quote ad nauseam (from 12-step): “Let go or be dragged.”

Part Three – Wrong Mindfulness – Bad Mindfulness

So what’s wrong mindfulness? And what’s wrong about it?

First of all it’s important to move away from “right or wrong” – not choosing judgmental language is much more effective. Especially to folks like me living with difference aka disabilities. Difference from whom’s norm? Is this body or mind “right or wrong” or is it “differently abled”? or just effective in some ways but not so in others?

In researching the topic Mushim reminded me that the language of “right and wrong” is often a poor translation. Very Judo-Christian-Capitalist-Assembly-Line. She suggested to think about “beneficial and non-beneficial” or “skillful and unskillful.” One of my coaching mentors said about our ADHD is that our hyperactivity could be either “effective or ineffective.”

Apparently even the translation of “sin” is actually to “miss the mark.” Or as a pretty cool and not-so-objectified old-wise-character in a fairly decent Disney movie about the wolves of Alaska would say: “Good Idea.” Meaning: are your thoughts, choices, actions fitting into the greater good and being a “good idea” – or are they not? Please use a feather to discern the different parts – not a scalpel.

The classic teaching of non-beneficial, or un-skillful mindfulness is to use extremes: if we were to study being a sniper, and did so with great concentration, we’d develop the skill of being able kill others very well – clearly a misuse of concentration, study and, again, the greater good.

In reverse we could also give away everything we own, devote ourselves to the liberation of others, and study the Dharma in a monastery. But, I suspect none of us are going to do that anytime soon. I might one day do something in that direction, although I do like my hair, as I seriously find a great deal of joy in owning very little and being of service. AND I try to not cling but experience and enjoy or at least observe: having fun isn’t bad or ineffective, enjoying the cool air through my nostrils isn’t decadent, it’s being with.

Like fast food – filling your mind with junk – unskillful mindfulness is concentrating on those thoughts, issues, and feelings that don’t bring about liberation – even momentary liberation from clinging to our judgements – and boy do we love our judgements. These may be tasty morsels but it’s ultimately not going to build the figurative “strong bones and good teeth” (a reference to a 1970’s milk commercial on TV).

Some adjectives to ponder in terms of non-beneficial mindfulness : denial, anger, ill-will, delusion, greed, materialism, money-grubbing, impatience, ill-wishing, ignorance, avoidance, anger.

Versus: generosity, unselfishness, kindness, benevolence, altruism, charity, big-heartedness, and goodness.

Again for the 2nd and not final time quoting 12-step pithy sayings: “Resentment is like drinking a bottle of poison and expecting the other person to die.” In studying this topic I finally realized that if someone else hates or resents me, it’s not me they resent but ultimately themselves – they have to live with that resentment! They are cultivating unskillful mindfulness, as I have at/with others.

Personally, I am mostly in the place of Good Orderly Direction (aka GOD ) since The egregious Wrong Mindfulness I’ve been able to work away from (sure I can lose my shit but it’s really so much rarer these days after so much practice both on the cushion and in the therapists office), and that the practice in my practice, is to continue to find the “smaller ways” in which I can cultivate effective mindfulness.

What am I consuming for media? How often am I “binge watching” TV junk food? Do I find myself gossiping, cloaked in the lie of concern for another? How am I fooling myself into believing that “just one bite” of this morsel of hate is ok to have?

Learning from Mushim I also found out that Right Mindfulness aka Effective Mindfulness (Sama Sati) is the basis of my cultural and personal philosophy of liberation: mindfulness used in the service of the Greater Good. Ultimately the first precept of do non-harm. I like to think that I have some very junior version of the Dali Lama’s philosophy: go into any situation and try to help. If not, try to do no harm.

Like the sniper: we’re not honing a skill to be used solely for ourselves as some evil instrument: we are ultimately doing it for the greater good. That which is in service to all beings, all creature, on all plains of existence – that kind of Skillful Mindfulness may feel like we’re giving away the whole proverbial farm with all of our ego attachment “animals” in it, but ultimately things, thoughts, and clinging are to things we don’t “own” – they own us.

What’s one teeny unskillful mindful habit or thought would you like to try to give away today?

It’s the ultimate price – doesn’t cost you and may just cost you momentary liberation from suffering.

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