Mindfulness is the simple act of paying attention to whatever is arising in the present moment in the form of our breath, bodily sensations, our five sense organs and our thoughts and feelings. We do this with an open heart, with no judgment. The promise of mindfulness is that this very simple act of observing our breath, body, senses, thoughts and feelings can take us from the shadows to the source of illumination – from the outer appearances to their inner essence – from the visibles to the intelligibles – from the apparent to the real. But how?
The breath is usually used as the first portal into present moment awareness – just sitting and observing your breath, the in breath and out breath, all the sensations of breath moving in through the nostrils into the lungs and back out, the rising and falling of the chest and abdomen.
From the breath, we move into awareness of various bodily sensations – sensations of pain, tugging, tingling, the rumbling in our stomachs, the beating of our hearts, our feet falling asleep, an itch on our knee – whatever is presenting itself in a given moment.
We continue our exploration from breath and bodily sensations to our sense organs of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. Everything presented to us in our field of awareness arises, stays for a while and moves away. We begin to get a very real sense for the idea of impermanence. Nothing stays forever. This body is going to go one day. This house will no longer be a house. Everything and everyone we hold dear is going to go one day. As Eckhart Tolle says, “Even the sun will die.” When we internalize this knowledge, we find it easier to let go. And thus the spiritual unfoldment process begins. A couple of petals of our lotus flower with roots mired in the mud begin to open up.
From there we begin to start paying attention to our mind space – our thoughts and feelings. By now, the mind has become more still and the pace of the chatter has slowed down. We start noticing certain patterns in our thinking. Some thoughts and feelings seem to recur more often than others. The exploration continues. “Hmm.. Why does this thought of self-judgment or self-doubt or resentment or anger with so-and-so keep recurring? Wow! I can see connections here. I can see where they’re coming from. They’re coming from the time when I was six years old and such and such thing happened to me.” The very act of shining a light on our unconscious thought patterns begins a process of bringing clarity to our conditioned selves. We begin to heal from old wounds and taste the first flavors of inner freedom. A few more petals in our lotus flower open up to the sunlight.
As we sit each day observing ourselves with love, we get in touch with the nature of our own suffering – how we hurt when our egos get caught, how our ignorance alienates us from others, how we burn when we get angry. By deeply getting in touch with our own suffering, we begin to open our hearts to the suffering of others. We start to think, “Every human being suffers due to fear, confusion and ignorance, just like me. I want to ease the suffering of others because I know what it’s like to suffer.” Thus compassion is born. We can begin to forgive others who have done us wrong because we recognize that whatever was done to us was done due to fear, hurt, confusion and ignorance – all of which we recognize in ourselves. We can also feel compassion for ourselves and forgive ourselves for wrongs we have done to others in the past. We think, “I’m an imperfect being just like all human beings on this planet, trying to do the best I can in this life with what I’ve been given. I have made mistakes, but I can forgive myself and move forward.” We begin the journey to self-acceptance. We can accept all parts of ourselves – the good, the bad and the ugly – because each of us, no matter how imperfect, is unique and beautiful just the way we are. The spiritual unfoldment process begins to accelerate and several more petals of our lotus flower open up. We become a friend to the world. We express ourselves authentically. We develop a love for all beings.
As we deepen our practice and contemplate our bodies, we start to think – all this flesh and bone is really made of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, phosphorous, silicates, and the like. The solid parts of us are made of this very earth we live on. We take other parts of the earth and put them into our bodies in the form of food that then become the tissues of our heart and lungs, our bones, our skin. Oh and by the way, our blood, sweat and tears are the ocean in us! The oceans become clouds and falls as rain, which collect in our rivers and lakes that then get sent to our taps for us to drink. This water becomes our blood, sweat, tears, and urine. What about the fact that our body temperature is 98.6 degrees? We have the fire of the sun in us in the form of heat and energy, in the form of the fire of digestion and the fire of our intellects. We have the air element in us as our breath and the space element in the form of all the cavities that hold our eyes, nose, ears, mouth, bone marrow, the spaces in our blood vessels. We have all five elements right here in this body! We are deeply connected to all the elements, to the stars, to the very beginnings of this universe. We begin to feel a real sense of interconnectedness with everything around us. We see how we are connected with the birds and dinosaurs, our ancient ancestors. A profound sense of wonder and gratitude creep into our beings. What a wonderful world! What a beautiful life! More petals in our lotus flower open up. We feel an increased sense of harmony with the world around us, and the events unfolding in our lives.
As we continue to cultivate the practice of awareness, we begin to reason, “I can observe my breath, my body, senses, thoughts and feelings. Therefore I am not my breath, body, senses, thoughts or feelings, because I can observe each of these. So who or what am “I” if I can observe all these things?” We turn our awareness on awareness itself. Then something magical happens. We begin to see that this thing we call “I” that we identify with most of our days and nights has no reality whatsoever. We see that it is a series of memories arising one after the other to hold together a narrative of our lives as individual, separate beings with a name and form. We can now observe everything including this false sense of self, arising every morning when we wake and disappearing when we go to sleep. This story we identify with is not real! Mind blown! Several more petals open up and we begin to feel a greater and greater sense of joy, ease, peace, fearlessness, equanimity and freedom.
So if we are not this person who we identify as (and everyone knows as) Gayathri or Brad or Jean, who are we really? We continue to sit with our breath, body, senses and mind and awareness. Everything becomes still. At this point, a grace enters us and the portal into present moment awareness disappears. We are no longer entering or exiting a portal. We merge with that stream of consciousness where there is no separate observer observing anything.
From Narayana Guru’s ‘One Hundred Verses of Self-Instruction’ –
“The sky will glow as radiant sound— on that day, all visible configurations will become extinct in that; thereafter, the sound that completes the three-petaled awareness becomes silent and self-luminous.”
We see that we are the very same consciousness that is becoming all this. We become “That alone”. Our lotus is now in full bloom.