Guatama Siddharta undertook incredible trials in his search for Enlightenment to become the Buddha, a being awakened to the truths of existence. In his realization, he found the simplest and most direct way for anybody to develop to their fullest potential and know true peace. By being your best and making the effort in awareness, you can free yourself from difficulty and suffering in your life and discover true purpose that can never be destroyed.
As a young prince Siddharta was sheltered from the reality of the world under the order of his father who had heard a prophecy that he would grow up to be a great military conqueror or a great spiritual teacher. His father kept him away from spiritual teachings and from seeing any suffering in the world that might evoke his compassion or empathy. This impossible idea was doomed to failure and as Siddharta grew up his curiosity drove him to see beyond the life he was shown. What he found is that life is full of suffering. He was so affected that it compelled him to give up everything and become a monk. For many years he endured challenging ascetic practices of renunciation, fasting, and breath control in the belief that it would lead him to liberation. After great efforts that nearly killed him, he still had not realized enlightenment. He decided to change his approach to what we now call the middle way. He began to take food regularly again, and focused deeply on the reality as it is. Strengthened in his body and focused in the present moment he began to see that all experience is determined by the mind and that the mind often caused painful experiences and wrong understanding. If the mind could see the truth and be controlled then a person could know peace. In an uncontrolled state, the mind could make a good situation seem bad, and a bad situation seem good. The mind could jump into the past or future, missing the present moment where things really matter and are really happening. The mind could ignore the truth of impermanence and become attached to things destined to fade. The mind could be consumed with fears and anxieties that would close it off to the world and even detriment it’s own body. Siddharta realized most thoughts were reactions to desires and aversions but there were also moments when the mind was tranquil in the present moment.
Out of this great shift Siddharta discovered peace while observing his thoughts without re-action or judgement. Under the boddhi tree he witnessed many of the deepest inner workings of his mind surface and confront him with visions that might break his peace, yet Siddharta maintained his focus in what was real, the ability to perceive, and did not feed the passing illusions. He realized he was not these thoughts or even how he felt about them. Those were all the dreams of a temporary character played by the ego. By witnessing this ego and it’s fantasies as a passing thought, instead of as himself, he awakened his mind to the truth and became the Buddha.
Everyone of us has this awakened mind. To say that Siddharta became the buddha is true in terms of how people referred to him but doesn’t mean he gained something. By his awakening he only stopped investing his energy in wrong views. The basis of buddhism is right view. This right view is that this awakened and peaceful you is within, and by doing the work through accepting the truths of life you will uncover it. Simply put, the truths of life we need to accept our is that there is suffering in life, that this suffering is caused by our desires attached to impermanent things, that this suffering can be lessened and ultimately escaped by living in the present moment, and that the path to doing this is through practicing mindfulness and living, performing, and speaking in ways that recognize and honor these truths. Compassion naturally arises out of this understanding and it is another important practice of buddhism. No being wants to suffer. One of the best practices you can do on your journey of mindfulness is to reduce the suffering of others. This is mindfulness in action. It works us through these truths, develops awareness and intelligence, and leads to the realization that there is more to life than “me”. You could see it such that the suffering in the world is a means to evolve our actions to become more mindful, to live with more focus and intention, and ultimately becoming a genuine agent of creation rather than a system of reactions. This is the freedom we are seeking.
Mindfulness can be practiced many ways but it is always grounded in the simple experience of what you can observe and work with in the present moment. Observing your body you can feel different parts, temperature, moisture, aches or pains, and breath. Observing your emotions you can feel you are in a certain energy state right now affected by how you feel about life today. Observing your mind you are thinking and imagining the meanings of these words and witnessing the activity of yourself reading right now, and many other things subconsciously. Observing the world around you, you see there is a complex reality full of other beings who are observing these same four things. Some physical disciplines make it easier to connect with yourself and serve as great mindfulness arts. Yoga helps to experience the inner body, free dance helps to move and express our inner feelings, playing music and anything which puts you in a state of deep flow will work. Journalling can put you in touch with your inner mind and feelings as you revisit events. Meditation is a direct internal concentration.
Society and our instincts challenge us to live mindfully. They compel us to actions that are based on the past or anticipating the future. Fortunately however mindfulness can be practiced at anytime no matter what you are doing. Think of all those what if’s, should have’s and shouldn’t have’s, why did it happen, why didn’t it happen’s, want’s and don’t want’s…and start to watch your mind. Recognize these as thoughts that aren’t based in anything that is supporting you right now. Bring your attention back to what does support you and what is much more real. What you are and what you choose to do with yourself right now. You can be reborn into a new and more content version of yourself by doing this whenever you need. Focus on what matters. Focus on the quality of the way you do things. Focus on the quality of the way you sit, breath, move, talk, feel, and act. Even focus on the quality of how you pay attention to these things. The practice serves yourself to be your best self. You can even focus on simple natural phenomenon in new ways. Sit quietly and listen to the sounds around you without thinking about it. Look without looking at anything particularly and notice the expanse of forms, colors, textures, space, light, and shadows. Do it until you are meditating, going in a trance of flowing your attention in the present. Even try to look at this page with eyes that don’t know these little marks are letters that make a language and just see meaningless images on paper.
The mind is like a muscle and to keep bringing it back to attention in the present moment is how to exercise it. Your own presence, your own breath, your own mind, your own feeling are very meditative objects to practice mindfulness on. They will lead to a deep understanding of Self. The breath is among the best of these because it is easy to observe and sets the example of something moving from an unconscious process to a conscious experience. It is subtle too and will be challenging enough to build your mindfulness muscle. Sometimes you’ll lose it. That’s fine. Good, even. Many people think they are not meditating well when they lose focus on their breath often but as long as you keep bringing it back that is really what it’s all about. That’s what is actually strengthening your attention. Stay calm and carry on, bringing the attention back, learning to refocus the mind to the moment.
As you develop these skills of mindfulness your life will transform in both the inner and outer worlds in a positive way. You’ll become more and more the master of your experience because your attention is focused and accompanied by a growing anchor of peace and understanding. Mindfulness practice gives you purpose and something to work on in yourself when there is nothing else, and people need purpose to be fulfilled in life. Without a positive direction for our efforts many of us will fall into cycles of self-destructive pleasures to fill our lack of purpose. Consider purpose as having an activity. I don’t mean having a grand life purpose. Just a moment to moment positive way that you engage yourself. There is walking meditation, focusing on each step, feeling your heartbeat, humming to yourself, looking softly and intently at something with curiousity, etc. This is how mindfulness or meditation is often better for overcoming addictions, pain, sorrows than any other means or medications. It trains your awareness, understanding, and control of your very self.
Negative emotions can be overcome from mindfulness and understanding. Think of times you felt understanding towards a person in a painful situation or someone who acted hurtfully to you and you remained peaceful. This is easiest to do when thinking of a child that is afraid of something they don’t understand but you do, and you can allay their fears with knowledge and calmness. Sometimes when people are afraid they can also become insecure, and then use other emotions, such as anger, to hide their insecurity. As we see deeper into our own mind and accept what is inside through mindfulness practice we see these mechanisms and how they are in all of us. Then you know that when you or someone else is acting in a hurtful way it is because of their fears or wrong notions that drive away their ability to perceive deeply enough to know the right action. They just don’t know what they’re doing or can’t control themselves. For such people we should hold space and retain our peace before acting from a place of compassion. The best way to help, much like with the example of the fearful child, is to help them to accept the feeling and work on right knowledge.
Once several ascetic teachers had become concerned & jealous of the following that the Buddha had attracted through his teachings. They tricked a woman into spying on the buddha regularly and then after they were sure some of buddha’s followers had noticed this activity, murdered her and buried the body near the grove where he took rest. They told their king and went to find the body. Upon doing so they declared to everyone that the Buddha was the murderer. Many of the Buddha’s followers became fearful and concerned yet he remained calm and told them to control their fears as they were all innocent. He told them if they were accused to only repeat calmly these words 'Those who lie or deny what they have done are equal in their evil deeds and both suffer.' Then be patient. The people will see how calm you are and will grow tired of scolding you. Within seven days, the shouting and accusations will subside.” Soon the people began to realize that the Buddha and his followers were not responsible, as their nature remained peaceful as before, even when accused. The true criminals were later discovered.
Through cultivating mindfulness one’s knowledge of what is truly important also grows. Another story of the Buddha conveys this. A group of friends were playing in a field. While they enjoyed their activities a thief stole some of their possessions from the nearby grove. They went together in search for the thief and found buddha sitting under a tree. They asked “Did you see a thief pass by with our things?” The Buddha replied, “What is better for you, that you search for the thief or search for yourselves?” They replied, “Ourselves!” Buddha invited them to sit and preached these truths of mindfulness which they praised and felt elevated by, no longer caring for the loss of the material things.
These stories and the practices of mindfulness teach us what is most important in our life and it is not the things we own, how others treat us, or even what we think about ourself. What is important is that we maintain an open dialogue with our reality and bravely accept the events of it while cultivating a sense of non-attachment, peace, and compassion. Your mind creates your experience, and your mindfulness is your mind's best holistic medicine.