The Little Book of Mindfulness Book Previews: 1. The Little Book of Mindfulness, Chapter 1 2. The Little Book of Mindfulness, Chapter 2: Finding Peace Within 3. The Little Book of Mindfulness, Chapter 3: Awakening to Your True Nature (Current)
I'm excited to announce that I'm now half way done with writing The Little Book of Mindfulness. I'm going to keep my intro short this week because I'm trying to finish another new article for you by Saturday.
I'm super excited to complete my first book, but I'm taking my time and making sure it turns out to the quality standards I've held all of my previous work to. I make it a point to never finish a piece of writing until I'm 100% happy with it.
I hope you enjoy the next chapter of The Little Book of Mindfulness, titled Awakening to Your True Nature. In this chapter, I describe the deeper level of spiritual practice and how mindfulness plays an important role.
I haven't decided yet if this is my last preview of the book before I release it or not. In any case, look for the book (in all versions) to be released next month!
As always, let me know what you think!
Part 1, Chapter 3:
Awakening to Your True Nature
As we discussed in the last chapter, mindfulness can allow us to obtain a tranquil mind and thereby bring a wellspring of peace and joy into our lives. But mindfulness has another important role. It’s the energy which allows us to discover the truth. Specifically, the true nature of things including ourselves. So the second power of mindfulness is the ability to help one obtain perfect clarity and awaken to one’s true nature (vipassana). By true nature, I’m referring to our true “way” or our natural existence. By seeking to live in this way we can unearth wrong perceptions and discover our true selves.
To discover one’s true self is something so many people strive for. Some strive to discover this elusive state most of their lives. But so many of us have no idea what exactly this entails. Where do we start? The very question of “who am I?” is as confusing as it is open ended. For the most part, this question is difficult to answer because there are so many hidden forces at work in our lives: the negative emotions which keep us locked in a perpetual “mental prison”, the ego which strives to protect our self-worth at all costs, the ever-present pressure from society to conform to often unrealistic or misguided ideas, other false views which distort our perception, and worst of all: fear. Fear of everything. Fear of what people think of us, fear of losing those close to us, and fear of losing our position in life, among other things. These forces alter our perception of reality. We think that these things are “us”, so the question of “who am I?” becomes a seemingly impossible question to answer. But these things aren’t really us. By living with mindfulness we can see beyond these wrong perceptions to our true nature.
What is our true nature? It’s beyond all perception, beyond all mental formations, beyond the physical body we inhabit, and beyond the sense organs we use to experience the world around us. And it’s beyond consciousness. You’re not your thoughts, emotions, or sensations. You’re not a separate self, disconnected from everything and everyone around you. You’re limitless. You’re in the trees, the flowers, and the clouds. And these things are in you. To confine ourselves to a limited identity such as “I am this old, this nationality, this sex, good at this, bad at this, I work here, and I’ve accomplished this.” is to confine ourselves inside of a small box. Our true nature is boundless. We’re closely interconnected to all living and nonliving things. We and everything around us is impermanent, and yet, we exist beyond life and death itself in an endless continuation of energy. Our true existence is the very ground of being, the plane of existence beyond words in which all things exist as one.
The essence of discovering our true nature is to come in contact with the ultimate. What is that? It goes by many names- the ultimate reality, the ultimate dimension, the ground of being, Buddha mind, and even God. The ground of being is the ultimate level of reality. It can’t be completely described in words because it’s beyond the concept of language. It can only be experienced. It exists in some form in just about every religion and spiritual tradition on Earth. I don’t want to speak too much about it, but know that the ultimate purpose of all spiritual practice is to touch the ground of being. By living deeply in this reality, the historical reality, we can touch the ground of being. By touching the ground of being, we see beyond all the things that once kept us chained down. We rise above fear, no longer have any need for hatred, anger, or jealousy, and we break the illusion of limiting beliefs. To touch the historical reality deeply is a very meaningful and fulfilling practice. You don’t need anything else. In that moment, everything is perfect. And you realize what true happiness is. To discover our true nature is in fact to discover our true selves and our true potential.
Building a resting place
It’s important to become aware of the ideas in this chapter, but if you’re just starting out don’t bother with awakening or any of this ultimate reality stuff. Just focus on calming the mind. Work on stopping, calming, fully resting, and healing as we spoke about in the last chapter. Develop your mindfulness practice by sitting, walking, breathing, and doing as many basic tasks throughout your day with mindfulness. Do this for at least a few months. Let your practice progress naturally.
As we spoke about in the last chapter, with time you’ll develop a great feeling of calm, experience a strong sense of peace and joy in everyday life, obtain complete rest, and heal the mind. These are all very important. But it also takes time to develop mindfulness as an ability and as a habit, so don’t try to rush through this part. You won’t get anywhere if you do that and will therefore just end up wasting a lot of time and effort. The practice of calming the mind never ends, it will be something you practice for the rest of your life and it’s equally important to gaining clarity of mind. Don’t think you can bypass this and become truly at peace without it. There’s no separating the two states of samatha and vipassana, in reality, they’re two sides of the same coin.
Remember when I said that calming the mind was the foundation for obtaining a clear mind? Tranquility and clarity are natural extensions of one another. When we calm our mind, it’s like we’ve built a nest for our mind. This nest nurtures and heals the mind naturally. This is our resting place. But this resting place is also fertile ground for receiving insight. Take the time to build this resting place and you’ll have a strong foundation which will allow you to begin touching reality deeply.
There’s no separating the two states of samatha and vipassana, in reality they’re two sides of the same coin.
Shining the Light of Mindfulness
So how does mindfulness help us discover our true nature? Mindfulness is the very vehicle which helps us see reality in its true state. By learning to live with mindfulness we can develop great clarity in order to see the world as it is. By “as it is”, I’m referring to seeing into the true nature of all things. This is reality in its true form, free from wrong views. This extinguishing of all wrong views and concepts is called Nirvana. Nirvana can best be translated as freedom. That is, true freedom. Freedom from all views in fact, because all views are wrong views when speaking in terms of the ultimate reality, which can only be experienced directly and is beyond all forms and concepts. And the act of obtaining this great mental clarity is traditionally called “awakening” (or “enlightenment” in many English translations of ancient Buddhist text). Why is all this important? Because it’s through this process of awakening that we discover our true nature and experience the ground of being. And it’s only until we learn to touch the ground of being that we discover true inner peace.
Imagine an orange. Your whole life you’ve seen this orange and you think the way that you see it is the way that it is. But, as we spoke about earlier, our wrong views color the lens (our perception) with which we perceive reality through. This wrong view of reality, which can be caused by a combination of “mental formations” such as fear, anger, and ignorance among many other things, is the ultimate source of all our suffering. By suffering, I’m referring to a sort of mental ill-being. Think of it as the opposite of inner peace. With mindfulness, the true nature of the orange will gradually reveal itself. You’ll see the orange peel back its skin and reveal something completely different from what you had perceived before. This is the process of awakening to the true nature of things.
Just as with calming the mind, gaining clarity of mind is a process. Don’t expect some sudden enlightenment to happen one day while practicing mindfulness. Moments of clarity can happen. These are moments of insight. But awakening is the slow process of peeling yourself and everything else in the world back one piece at a time to unveil the truth. You’ve lived your whole life “collecting” these false views. Imagine if you could wear ten pairs of sunglasses at once. Ten lenses, one in front of the other, in a row. Each of these lenses is a different color- green, pink, red, black- and each represents a wrong perception or mental formation which block you from experiencing reality in its true state. Your job is to remove each lens, one by one, until all ten pairs of sunglasses are gone. Each lens is blocking you from experiencing the full magnificence of the light. But with each pair of glasses you remove the more clearly you can see the light. It will take time to free yourself from all the things coloring your perception. But this is the ultimate liberation. This is true freedom. To be free from all false views, to no longer be tortured by deep-seeded issues or controlled by the ego, and to realize our limitless potential. I give this example to show that clarity is a gradual process. But as you work to wipe away your false views you’ll develop a great sense of peace and liberation. It doesn’t just come at the end of removing the last pair of sunglasses. Every moment of mindfulness is an opportunity to touch the ground of our being. This is the magic of living deeply.
To live deeply is ultimately what a spiritual practice is about. This is because to live deeply is to touch the ground of being and be liberated from all afflictions. Living deeply means nothing is trivial. Every single action, no matter how minor, holds great significance. Living in such a way, you appreciate every little thing in your life. You appreciate the water you have to drink, the food on your plate, the clothes on your back, and for having healthy eyes with which to see. Living deeply, in a way that cultivates a deep appreciation for the world around you, is a very fulfilling practice. By letting our mindfulness guide us, that is, being fully present for every action and placing our entire being into everything we do, we can realize our true nature.
Mindfulness is itself our “true vision”. Remember the field of mindfulness example I gave earlier? Mindfulness is the quiet observer of everything. It judges nothing, so it sees with absolute clarity. It sees the outside world, the mind in mind (observing one's thoughts), and it sees the mind in things, that is, our perception of the things we experience in the outside world. So mindfulness is itself awakening. When you’re practicing mindfulness you are awakened. It will take time though to identify and realize your true nature. But know that there is nothing to be gained, nothing you need to accomplish. You’re perfect just as you are in this moment. So to live deeply with mindfulness is to strive to live true to our nature and touch the seed of awakening in us.
How do we live deeply with mindfulness? This will be a natural progression of your mindfulness practice. Once you’ve become fully rested your mind will be able to rest in mind. You’ll now be able to experience mindfulness of the mind in the mind and the mind in things. Previously, we discussed the fact that everything we see, everything we experience, passes through our perception before we experience it. Because of this, the mind itself is part of what we’re experiencing. This is mindfulness of the mind in mind. In simple terms, there’s no escaping the mind because the mind is us. So when we observe the behavior of the mind with mindfulness that’s mindfulness of the mind while in the mind. We think we’re looking at a book, but in reality, we’re looking at our perception of the book. This is because, in reality, there is no separating subject and object. You can never separate mind from that which the mind is perceiving. What you think of the book- whether you like the book or not, think the cover looks funny or cool, or if the book conjures some sort of old memories good or bad- arises from the mind and becomes your perception of the book. So to be mindful of the book is also to be mindful of the mind in the book. Furthermore, this means that what we perceive isn’t necessarily the real world at all. The book that we see is first and foremost an object of our consciousness. When you and I look at the book, we see two different books. I might have a bad memory of the book which distorts my perception of it. On the other hand, you might have a good memory of the book with positively distorts your perception of it. Neither is correct, they’re both distorted perceptions of the book. It’s when we can see the true book that we experience our own true nature.
Mindfulness is our master tool in the study of the self. By developing the power of mindfulness to the point where we can experience the mind in mind and the mind in things we begin to see that everything is mind. If the book we see (not the real book) is really an object of our consciousness, and the process of gaining clarity of mind is really about extinguishing all false views such as these, then mindfulness’ role is the tool which allows us to see deeply into ourselves and identify these false views. The light of mindfulness, the great observer, is also a great healer. Remember the animal that simply sits and rests in peace and quiet in order to heal its wounds? Mindfulness is the healing energy which allows us to gradually erode all false views and concepts in order to attain nirvana and touch the ground of our being. To realize our true nature is the only way to experience true inner peace. It will be difficult at first, but if you let mindfulness be your guide it will lead you to an existence filled with peace and joy.