Continuing our discussion of the mindfulness aspect of the Buddha’s Eightfold Path, using the word ‘spacious’ instead of ‘right’ or ‘wise’ to explore how that affects our understanding…
Spacious Mindfulness is opening into the fullness of this moment, fueled by our spacious intention to be present and compassionate, supported by our balanced spacious effort, and held by our spacious view that perceives the interconnectivity of all that is, and stirred by our practice of spacious concentration. Out of the opaque or murky miasma of our consciousness comes clarity. Through the skillful practice of meditation we develop the clarity to see our thoughts as they pass through the mind, to see our emotions as they pass like waves through our consciousness, and to begin to see associations between the thoughts, emotions, tension or other sensations we may feel in our body, images that arise unbidden, glimpses of dreams, and long-held beliefs and assumptions never before noticed or examined.
This clarified consciousness, this mindfulness, can hold whatever arises with compassion, understanding and the curiosity that come with beginners’ mind. With beginners’ mind we experience all our sensations fresh, without labels, boundaries and judgments. We are simply present with what is, noticing.
Yesterday, something mentioned in a conversation among sangha members before the beginning of class brought up some anxiety in one of the meditators. That something haunted her meditation, but she had the mindfulness to recognize the cause of the anxiety she felt and to watch how the thought impacted her physically, emotionally and mentally. She recognized a recurring pattern of reaction in her life. She felt gratitude for having the opportunity to witness this pattern in action, as it unfolded. Later during discussion, she shared this experience and thanked the student whose words had stirred up the anxiety for this teaching.
This kind of clarity is the result of a regular meditative practice. We might have glimpses of clarity in our lives that arise spontaneously, and some people are just naturally more present than others, but the practice of meditation develops a more dependable state of mindfulness. In general this clarity is commensurate with the skillfulness and dedication to practice. But of course it varies a great deal, and expectation will sabotage the whole process!
As we notice the workings of our mind, we will quite naturally exercise our curiosity. We will see a pattern and wonder about it. ‘Why do I feel that way?’ ‘Why do I believe that’s true?’ It is our basic human nature to wonder and to explore. And we have had questions rattling around in our minds forever, but perhaps we weren’t aware of them, or didn’t recognize them as questions.
Without clarity, compassion and awareness these questions may feel more like statements we perceive as truth about ourselves rather than questions that might have answers. Do any of these sound familiar: “Who am I to do such and such?” or “Why bother trying, I’ll only mess it up as usual?” or “Why me?”
When we begin to recognize these kinds of phrases we can begin to explore their roots. So many self-doubting questions are rooted in the unkind fear-based words of someone in our past, our childhood most likely, who loved us the best they could, but was operating from their own murky consciousness and splattered us with the mess of it. We can’t go back and do an un-do, and there’s no reason to try. Through clarity we can see the causes and conditions of these negative questions, and knowing this, their power over us is lessened to a great degree. Once exposed to the light of day and our compassionate common sense we are released from their relentless grip.
This doesn’t mean they will automatically disappear. But it does mean that as long as we have an awareness practice, we have the ability to explore, discover and recognize them. As Siddhartha sat under the Bodhi tree on the dawn of his awakening, he was repeatedly taunted by Mara – all that tempts and taunts us – and each time he would say ‘Oh Mara, I know you.’ It is this recognition that frees us. He did not go into battle with Mara. We do not need to go into battle with these patterns of mind. Recognition itself will begin the de-tangling process, so that we are not being strangled by them.
As we develop clarity and a sense of being present in the moment, we begin to see the associative patterns of our thoughts, emotions, memories that rise up unbidden, and we will have questions. A well-formulated question may illuminate patterns of powerful but foundationless beliefs and assumptions.
Just such a question was posed to me by Mark Coleman in a class at Spirit Rock about eight years ago. He asked us, “What is it that is holding you in bondage?” Read more about the journey toward freedom that question began in me.
In the archive you will find a number of postings on questioning and inquiry. If you are curious, check them out!
Spacious Mindfulness is the clarity that arises out of our dedicated practice of meditation. It is a sense of presence, of being in the moment, of noticing and then getting curious, posing a well-formulated question and being fully present for the answer when it comes.