The Foundations of Mindfulness course
The first five modules relate to the cultivation of mindfulness. In Buddhism this is often referred to as shamatha or calm abiding practice. Here there are three qualities that we cultivate – relaxation, focus and clarity. We will be using the breath as our object in cultivating these three core qualities during the first three sessions. We will then turn our attention to our own minds in session four and five to cultivate mindfulness. Focusing on our thoughts and emotions and in module five focussing on the natural stillness of our awareness.
The last three sessions relate to the application of mindfulness, how by applying mindfulness we can gain insights into our world of experience and thereby improve the quality of our life. In Buddhism this is called vipashyana (vipassana in Pali) or insight practice. In each session we will begin with an explanation of the topic and how to practice the corresponding meditation. There will then be a guided meditation on this particular practice. Following the meditation there will be an opportunity to discuss and ask questions regarding the practice. Finally we will end with another meditation session.
If we wish for these practices to be effective then we need to implement them in our life, both in formal meditation and integrating them into our daily life. Therefore each session will end with instructions on how to practice during the following week.
MODULE 1: RELAXATION
In general when we focus on any object or task we tend to be quite tight and tense and as a result often become both stressed and exhausted. What’s the solution? Relaxation. The basis of any sustainable focus is relaxation. Our modern society has programmed us to be tight and tense in both our body and mind. We need to reprogram ourselves. Learn again how to relax the body and relax the mind. On the basis of a more relaxed body and mind we can develop a better and more sustainable focus.
In this module we will look at how we can cultivate this sense of ease and relaxation in both the body and mind. For this we will use the practice of full-body awareness, simply being mindful of sensations throughout the body as we breath.
MODULE 2: FOCUS
When we try to focus on an object or task we often become distracted. And when we find that we have become distracted we often clamp down more forcefully on the object or task. Which then causes us to become more agitated and stressed.
Our modern society has programmed our minds to be over-active and chaotic. We are constantly bombarded by sensory and mental stimuli and we either allow our minds to get caught up in them or we fight with our own mind to try to restrain it. Either way our minds become fragmented. We need
a method to pacify our over-active mind so we can effectively focus on the task at hand.
In this module we will look at how we can develop an effective method to improve our ability to focus and at the same time quiet our over-active mind. For this we will use the practice of focussing our mindfulness on the sensations of the breath in the area of the abdomen.
MODULE 3: CLARITY
Often when we focus on an object or task our mind is not very clear, we become drowsy or are simply spaced-out. And when try to arouse our attention either we don’t succeed or our mind simply flips back to being tense and over-active. So we tend to either be focussed and tense or relaxed and dull.
In this module we will look at how we can combine the two – to be relaxed and at the same time be able to focus clearly on the object or task. For this we will use the practice of elevating our attention and focussing our mindfulness on the sensations of the breath at the entrance of our nostrils.
MODULE 4: SETTLING THE MIND
Our mind can be our best friend or our worst enemy. Unfortunately in our modern society it often seems to be the latter. We tend to be the slaves of our mind, tormented and often overwhelmed by out thoughts, emotions and memories. How can we become the masters of our mind and make our
mind our best friend?
The practice of settling the mind in its natural state. This practice enables us to simply observe our thoughts and emotions without getting caught up in our stories. And in the process our mind will become more naturally quiet and still.
In this module we will look at this practice and also some of the other huge benefits of this practice.
MODULE 5: RESTING IN STILLNESS
We often find ourselves not only getting caught up in our thoughts and emotions but also in the things which appear before us in our daily lives. Our lives are often very turbulent. And the only way we seem to be able to have any peace in our lives is if we try to withdraw from these appearances.
What about if we can find that stillness in our life without withdrawing from everything? The answer is to develop our ability to connect with and rest in the stillness of our own awareness. In this module we will look at the practice of simply resting in the natural stillness of our own awareness. And how we can bring that into our daily life and remain in that stillness as we go about our daily lives.
MODULE 6: OPEN AWARENESS
We often look for happiness in the outside world and that simply results in trying to attract people, places and things that seem to be the source of that happiness. And if we don’t get them we often become frustrated. We worry about losing them and when we lose them we often suffer tremendously.
We think we suffer because things change but in fact we suffer because we are fighting against the natural law of change.
In this module we will look at a very simple practice to internalize what we already intellectually understand – that things are constantly changing. And by so doing we can be more experientially in harmony with the ever-changing world and thereby enjoy the simple pleasures in life and not induce
any unnecessary suffering. And we can utilize that change to our advantage to improve the quality of our life.
MODULE 7: DISSATISFACTION
Not only do we tend to look for happiness in the external world and end up with dissatisfaction when our pleasurable experiences don’t completely satisfy us but we also tend to look for the cause of our suffering in the external world. And this often results in us simply magnifying the level of discomfort we experience by trying to push away or avoid people, places and things that seem to cause us suffering. So whether it’s a pleasant or unpleasant situation we end up with dissatisfaction.
If we can come to see that it is not the external world that is the source of our happiness or suffering but rather how we respond to it then we can avoid this dissatisfaction. In this module we will introduce a simple practice that can help us to appreciate that it is our attachment to pleasant things and our aversion to unpleasant things that brings us this dissatisfaction. And that the real underlying source of happiness is to be found within our own mind.
MODULE 8: POTENTIAL
It’s our false sense of being an autonomous self-existing agent that leads us to have attachment to pleasant things and aversion to unpleasant things. And we often identify ourselves with our body, thoughts, emotions, habits and memories. But as these are just things which we have then we can’t be them. So where is this autonomous self-existing self that seems to be here trying to run the show?
If we can come to realize that we do not exist as an autonomous agent but rather we are part of an inter-dependent changing world, a world of perspectives, then endless possibilities open up for us. We have the potential for infinite change, the potential to find genuine happiness and well-being. In this module we will first look more closely at our current false view of ourselves and how that leads to dissatisfaction and suffering. And then we will introduce a practice that can help break down this false view of an autonomous self.