The four frameworks for cultivating mindfulness, according to the Satipaṭṭhāna sutta (MN10), are:
- Feeling (pleasant, unpleasant, neither)
- Mind states
- Phenomena (hindrances, awakening factors, etc.)
We’re up to the third of these, training ourselves to be aware of what is occupying our minds in the present. To do this well, we need to bring along the first two frameworks, an awareness of our bodies and feelings, as context. Only by staying anchored in whole-body awareness can we keep our thoughts from sweeping us away.
One knows a mind with lust to be “a mind with lust”; or one knows a mind without lust to be “a mind without lust”; or one knows a mind with anger to be “a mind with anger”; or one knows a mind without anger to be “a mind without anger”; or one knows a mind with delusion to be “a mind with delusion”; or one knows a mind without delusion to be “a mind without delusion”; … (from the Satipaṭṭhāna sutta, translated by Anālayo Bhikkhu)
There are other qualities we can be alert to, but the leading ones are greed, hatred, and delusion. We can ask ourselves at any time whether greed or lust is present or absent in our minds, we can ask whether anger/hatred is present or absent. It is easy to recognize when greed or hatred is present in the mind, but it is also important to notice when these are absent. It is one definition of internal peace when the mind is free of the unwholesome roots, and it happens perhaps more often than we realize.
More from Ven. Anālayo: “[The] task is to see through a particular train of thought and its related associations in order to discern the underlying mental current. … Recognizing the feeling tone of our current experience … draws our attention to our subjective involvement in whatever is happening. In this way we learn to attend to the baseline condition of the mind rather than to the details of particular thoughts.”
In other words, we can learn to know our thoughts both subjectively and objectively. We see the details as we imagine they affect us; at the same time we can know whether the flavor of the internal conversation (or monologue) is kind or unkind, clear or fuzzy, heavy or light, tending towards selfishness or generosity.
The transition from cultivating mindfulness of our bodies and feelings to learning to be mindful with whatever thoughts appear in the mind is something of a leap. We are so accustomed to identifying with our thoughts, to taking our thoughts to be our selves, that the idea of stepping back from that can be daunting. Yet, anchoring our awareness in our bodies, noting feelings as they rise and fall, makes the task more approachable. We can simply check throughout the day: “Is there anger or no anger in this mind right now?”; and “Is there greed or no greed in this mind right now?” There’s no right or wrong answer, just knowing what’s true.
To be continued …