There is a body…
That might be the simplest meditation there is. Last week I had the pleasure of hearing a lecture by mindfulness teacher Joseph Goldstein, one of the first American vipassana meditation instructors. His sold out talk focused on a core question as mindfulness comes into the mainstream: What is mindfulness? Below is a summary from my notes:
There are pillars that are all necessary but not sufficient to achieve mindfulness. Any of the items mentioned below are not enough on their own to complete mindfulness:
1. Being Present
The basic definition of mindfulness is “being present.” This means having your attention in the current moment. Many publications use this definition to get people into mindfulness, but it is insufficient. Why? Look at your pet dog, she’s always only in the present.
The next step is taking a step back and observing the thoughts of the present. Just thinking in the present is not enough, you must be aware that you are thinking. When we are unaware of our thinking we are slaves to our thoughts.
3. Recognition of Filters
As you observe your present thoughts you must account for your biases. There are a lot of ways we filter our reality to match what we seek. One example is the “Filter of Wanting” – where our thoughts are biased to find something we “want.” His term for it, “catalog consciousness,” is when you flip through a catalog without intention, just to find something you “want,” though you really had nothing in mind. With the plethora of content on the internet, it’s easy to fall into that trap online at any moment.
Another filter is “In Order to,” which is doing something just for the end result. An example is observing tightness in a meditation just so that you can get the release. Essentially, with any thought you observe, you should ask if there is wanting, aversion, or any other intention present.
4. Wholesome Thinking
A final point is to not just be present but to seek that which is wholesome, that which is ethical. The key is to not identify with negative thoughts, but to acknowledge them. Develop discernment as opposed to an aversion to negative thoughts.
He emphasized that this is not about belief. You are encouraged to do you own observation, and come to your own conclusions. Use your conclusions as your guide in determining what is wholesome thinking and developing your ethical code.
At the end of the lecture I asked Joseph if this framework marked the completion of defining mindfulness, if he’d figured it all out by now. His response? He feels like he’s not even close, and every day is a new beginning, making it exciting each day to live, learn, and explore.
Cheers to that!
P.S. – Thanks to Insight LA for hosting this great event and to Rochelle Calvert of New Mindful Life for telling me about it.
P.P.S – On the opening quote – he opened the lecture with a meditation, but instead of starting with connecting with the breath or one of the other intentions, he simply said, “There is a body.” Before going on to all of the other concepts and means to connect to achieve mindfulness, he starts us with this core concept. There was no need to expand beyond that, simply repeating that phrase over and over. I loved it!
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons