Mindfulness Practice (with transcript)

Q&A: Mindfulness Practice

Can you give us any tips for remaining mindful?

Master Culadasa discusses how the mind works and how the practice of mindfulness can help us.


Student: Give us some tips for remaining mindful.

Culadasa: That is indeed the crux of the problem of the practice of mindfulness, is remembering to stay mindful. And I'll give you one tip; whenever you remember, and become mindful, trying to continue being mindful.

But you see, it's exactly the same thing that we experience in meditation. And as a matter of fact, meditation is the training that helps us. You sit down to meditate, you put your attention on the meditation object, and the next thing you know, it's gone. You go out in the world and you're practicing being mindful of your thoughts, and your words, and your actions, and the next thing know you've forgotten all about it. So it's exactly the same thing. When you remember to be mindful, you reinforce that. "Ah, thank goodness, I remembered to be mindful!" And trying to maintain that mindfulness as long as you can.

But one method that works really well to help you to be mindful is the practice of daily reflection. And you'd begin by simply choosing specific things that you want to be mindful of. There may be certain emotional states that arise, unwholesome mentals states, or it could be the practice of one or more of the perfections. But, what you do, in the process of reflection, is once a day you just simply remember those occasions in the last 24 hours when, first of all, those occasions when you did succeed in being mindful on those occasions. And rejoice in that. And then you also call to mind those occasions when you should have been, but you weren't. And that's the reminder. And so, the reason that you do that, is if you do that kind of reflection regularly, after a while you will start remembering more often to be mindful. But also, the application of mindfulness, even retrospectively, is still effective. It still produces a result. Maybe not as powerful of a result as being mindful in the present moment, but it will lead you towards that. And so that's the best tip that I have to offer.

And for those of you that have adopted that practice of keeping the book for six times a day, that is exactly that; so, six times, instead of the once a day reflection process, it's a six times a day reflection process. And it is focused on specific vows that you've taken. If you're doing that, that should help you to be mindful. One of the effects that you should find from that is it causes you to be mindful inbetween. So if you're already in the habit of using the book, then you've already got a really powerful tool for helping you to become mindful. I would just simply suggest that you extend it beyond simply whatever few vows that... you know, in the daily reflection, you start off with one or two or three simple things that are your focus. But the idea is that you expand that, so it helps you to become mindful all of the time. It helps you to remember to be mindful all of the time. It's that remembering part; the forgetting and the remembering. So you can use that book as a great tool, if you're used to using that. I could never get in the habit of doing something that often. But I did find that the daily reflection is a lot more manageable for people like me that could never remember to take the book with them, or never remember to write in it, or find it. So, you know, what am I going to say? *Laughs*

But that's a very good question, Alegra. Because you absolutely cannot underestimate the importance of this mindfulness, or how it works. And to practice mindfulness correctly, you want to be the objective observer. You want to see what's happening in this mental-physical accumulation of aggregates that you are. You just want to see what's happening. But to see it clearly. And without judgment, and without bringing "I" into it. Like, "oh, I shouldn't have done that", or, "oh, I'm so bad." Or "oh, I'm so... anything".

So the proper practice of mindfulness is being aware of what's actually taking place. And taking that awareness to deeper and deeper levels. And it does many things, but one of the important things that mindfulness does is that it provides feedback to all of those other parts of your mind as to what the consequences are of the activities that they initiate. And I can't tell you enough times, that you do not have "a mind", period. You have many different mental processes. Each one is relatively simple. It has a particular job to do, and a particular set of criteria by which it decides when to do its job. And of course, it's hierarchically arranged, so that there's simple mental processes, whose job is to turn on and off other mental processes.

But most of what you think of as your mind... pulling a number out of the air... I would pull the number 99% is unconscious. It's unconscious mental processes. And the only feedback that those unconscious mental processes ever get is what you are consciously aware of. And the quality of that conscious awareness is going to determine the quality of the feedback.

So if we choose a particular unwholesome mental state to apply our mindfulness to, the mental processes that produce that unwholesome mental state have been doing so for years, because their simple little program that they operate on says, "oh, when this happens or when that happens, get angry, or get sad, or be afraid" or whatever it is. And they keep doing that. And every time you're consciousness... whenever that happens, and what is in your conscious awareness is , "oh, I am angry" that reinforces that mechanism. And then when you say "I'm angry because he did this", then that prevents that... any kind of association between that unconscious mental process that delivered up that emotion doesn't get the feedback that, "oh, being angry makes me feel bad", because if it did, it would be less inclined to generate anger more easily. Or if it got the feedback that the anger creates all kinds of problems. But instead, it gets fed thoughts the justify the anger. And so it's never going to change. It's just going to get stronger and stronger. It's just going to keep on doing. All of our mental and emotional states are constructs generated by some part of your mind whose job is to generate those in order to produce certain kinds of results. And what you want to accomplish is to restructure the way that comes about.

So you've got to provide the feedback. You've got to look at how it makes you feel, you've got to look at the consequences. You've got to go to a deeper level and say, "oh, this is coming out of desire. This is coming out of aversion. This is coming out of attachment to my sense of self" or "this is coming out of old programs... events from the past". When you can see that, that settles into the deeper layers of the mind and you start finding that what happens in the future is changed by it. And that's how you change your karma. So to practice mindfulness is to have as clear... you want to really see what's going on. There's that aspect of it not being fuzzy and vague. But to really see what it is and to see it clearly, to understand it clearly. When you can see what's going on... and the clarity means, what obscures it. See, clarity is the lack of obscuration, and what obscures it is all of that stuff you usually do; of blaming somebody else, or something else, or justifying it in your mind; or, in other words, in one way or another, seeing it for other than what it really is.

Everything that happens to you, every mental event, is a construct delivered up by your mind as a result of past programming. 100% true. There is no experience you have that isn't shaped by unconscious mental processes. So when you apply this clear, vivid, mindful awareness to what is actually happening in this moment, you provide the feedback that allows those processes to change in a positive way and to begin to free you from the kinds of problems that you've experienced before.

Also, the practice of mindful awareness, the other thing that it does, in addition to being a nice way of reprogramming the computer and doing instant psychotherapy to help get rid of all these... without having to go spend hours on the couch and everything is, it gets right to the root of things and makes the corrections without you having to go through so much inbetween.

But the other thing is, as your mindfulness becomes clearer and clearer, as you are more and more seeing things as they really are, you start to discover those truths which dispel the ignorance; creates the wisdom and dispels the ignorance that is your problem. If you are really practicing mindfulness, you are going to be mindful of the processes by which you make decisions and you generate intentions.

And one of the things you'll discover is that you don't actually make decisions, and you don't actually generate intentions. It's all of those different mental processes with all of their stored up stuff. That's what makes the decision. They have different strengths, and they have different objectives, and so they have different points of view. So you are really more like a big executive committee, and your decisions are the result of... you know that in a decision there's several things that get weighed sometimes, right? Well that's what's happening, and when you think, "oh, well I decided I'm going to do this", well, you didn't.

One of the things another part of your mind does is invent the story of who you are. And the storyteller, once the decision is made, and it happens after the decision is already made, the storyteller says, "oh, I decided". And if somebody comes along and says, "why?" well the storyteller makes up a story about that. But if you pay attention you find out, you start to see what's happened; you didn't make the decision, the decision arose. You didn't generate the intention, the intention arose. And the storyteller appropriates it as "mine". This was my idea, my decision, my intention, or something happens later on, and the storyteller's saying, "oh, why did I do that?" But somebody didn't attend the executive committee meeting when the decision was made. *Laughter* And that happens. That's why we make decisions that we regret; everybody wasn't in attendance at the meeting.

So there isn't a self in there making these decisions and you can start to see it.

Added at Sept. 26, 2020
Original file name tips_mindful09aug09.mp3

* Audio files are processed to reduce background noise, and provide (much) better compression. The original files are still accessible through the "original" links above.