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What is mindful awareness practice?

by Mark Nunberg, Guiding Teacher

Mindfulness is the practice of opening to and understanding the moment just as it is, whether we are practicing sitting meditation, cooking dinner, or advocating for justice. To begin we make the necessary effort to calm the mind and heart. Without this first step, our intention to be present is often overwhelmed by the mind’s habits to struggle with conditions. Instead of struggling, we practice trusting the mind’s capacity to be relaxed, clear, intimate, and willing to feel how it is in the moment. This simple, clear knowing is at the heart of mindfulness practice.

Mindfulness is all about cultivating a continuous present-moment awareness. We train in persistence: a willingness to begin over and over again. This training is overseen by the wise and kind heart that appreciates how difficult it is to remain present. Still, no matter how difficult it appears to be, our practice is to gently and persistently return to the simple truth “This is being known.” Awareness is already available and knowing; the practice is to simply and clearly recognize “This is being known.” Many people develop whole-body awareness, a direct, non-conceptual knowing of sensation, as a means for developing momentum in their practice. Daily sitting practice and an effort to be present throughout the day are causes for greater joy, tranquility, and insight. This capacity to be present is our wise friend, protector, and guide – this is how we live with greater wisdom, compassion, and ease.

Lily Pad

“A bhikkhu (practitioner) who has heard that nothing is worth clinging to as me, I, or mine, they directly know all things.”

— The Buddha (MN 37)

It is a state of peace to be able to accept things as they are. This is to be at home in our own lives. We see that this universe is much too big to hold on to, but it is the perfect size for letting go. Our hearts and minds can become that big, and we can actually let go.

         –Sharon Salzberg

Let the body assume its natural ease. Let the mind assume its natural ease. Now, just stay alert to anything that arises to disturb that natural ease.

— Ajahn Amaro

       All created things are impermanent, unsatisfactory, and not-self,

       Seeing this with insight,

       One becomes disenchanted with suffering,

       This is the path of purifying the heart and mind.

                – Adapted from The Dhammapada verses 277-279

How and Why We Sit

by Mark Nunberg, Guiding Teacher

There’s an old saying: “If we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always gotten.” This old proverb helps us understand why a person might want to sit down right in the middle of one’s life and train the heart to be intimate or real with the conditions of the moment. “This is being known, this is how it is now, can this be OK?” The alternative is to follow the well-worn path of habit and distraction. Mindful awareness ultimately illuminates the nature of the mind. It reveals that the causes for stress and the causes for release lie within. Our practice expresses a confidence that we don’t have to repeat the past. Life is not hopeless. There is a path of waking up, developing insight into the nature of the mind, and learning to manifest real freedom with the conditions here and now. In other words, a wiser, more compassionate and easeful life is possible!

Our practice of opening and seeing clearly challenges the deepest habits of mind. It is common to doubt. “Is it OK to put down the world when worries tug at my heart?” “Is it OK to temporarily turn away from the very real suffering in our world so in need of compassionate engagement?” There is no resonant freedom without learning to let go of attachment, even of our most wholesome desires. Everything has always been uncertain and fluid, arising and passing away. Aligning with this truth undermines habits of grasping, allowing the ancient grip on the heart to begin to release. Freedom is found in the space where grasping ceases. It is only when we put things down that we can see more clearly the way things are. This insight into the letting go of attachment is at the very heart of learning how to skillfully and compassionately engage life.

  • Click here to see the handouts for the Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation Class.
  • Click here for audio recordings of previous Introductory courses.
  • Click here for a talk by Guiding Teacher Mark Nunberg called “Understanding the Path”

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