Welcome to the Space of Possibility. I’m extremely grateful you’re here. I’m grateful you’ve made the commitment to develop yourself, to expand and enrich your experience, to bring more peace and love to your life and to the lives of all those around you.
To do this, in this course, we will practice a number of meditation techniques, most of which have their foundation in vipassana or insight meditation, a Buddhist practice that seeks to cultivate the state of mind commonly referred to as mindfulness.
Along my spiritual path, there is not a single thing I can point to that has brought me more freedom, more peace, more love, and more understanding than my vipassana practice.
Only when I am mindful – when I am connected directly to my experience, open to it, interested in it, not lost in or identified with thoughts – can I wisely navigate this Space of Possibility. Only when I am mindful can I really understand and, therefore, love my neighbors, my friends and my family. Only when I am mindful can I be happy, can I truly be at peace.
Nothing, I’d argue, is worthier of your investigation than awareness. After all, worth, significance, and value all arise in it. Awareness is what gives any thing — art, music, friendship — any significance at all. It is the substance of knowing, the substance of all things.
I encourage you, then, to build a formal vipassana practice into your life so that you can keep awareness close as you travel through this awe-inspiring Space of Possibility that “You” are.
Now, today, rather than meditate, I’d just like to take the rest of this space to talk for a moment about what I mean by mindfulness.
Okay. So, what is mindfulness? Well, probably the most common response I hear from people is that mindfulness is to be present – that you are in the now.
And, yes, this is certainly a necessary aspect of mindfulness. You need to be here to be mindful. But that’s not quite the whole picture.
Joseph Goldstein, a wonderful vipassana teacher, often uses the example of a black lab to demonstrate why presence is not enough. Now, black labs, adorable creatures, no doubt, are certainly in the present moment – they’re not lost in thought, not thinking about the future, planning a dinner party, or remembering some interaction from the past, say, with another dog.
No, they’re fully emersed in the present, fully emersed in their sense of smell, interested in their surroundings, and happy to be with you. But, is a black lab really that mindful? Probably not.
Okay. So, what else do we need? Well, another aspect to mindfulness is something scientists call meta-cognition – an awareness of awareness, knowing that you’re knowing.
So, in addition to being present, mindfulness also requires this knowing aspect – an awareness that you are aware of some content of awareness.
And as you continue to practice, you’ll notice more and more that from this formless, open space, all things arise in this pairwise progression: knowing and object. There are bodily sensations and the knowing of bodily sensations, feelings and the knowing of feelings, sounds and the knowing of sounds, thoughts and the knowing of thoughts.
So, though in some sense awareness and the object are one thing, though they can’t arise independently of another, like a wave in the ocean, we can still note or highlight different aspects of this one thing: the knowing aspect and what is known.
Most of us, most of the time, like the black lab, aren’t aware of the knowing aspect. So, as we move through this course, we’ll practice bringing the awareness side of things into the field of awareness, we’ll learn how to prevent awareness from collapsing in on itself, from becoming lost in or identified with its contents.
Another way we might speak about this meta-awareness is to highlight its investigative nature. Awareness is a tool of understanding, which we might say is made up of the invisible substance of interest or wonder. So, included in mindfulness, is this eagerness to understand, this interest or wonder at experience.
Okay. So, mindfulness requires that we be present. It requires a meta-awareness, an awareness of the fact of awareness, and an eagerness to understand.
Is this it?
Not quite. There’s one more very important aspect. And this aspect, I think you’ll see, as it’s practiced and cultivated, becomes an incredibly powerful tool – a kind of superpower in your life. And it is a mind that is equanimous – a mind that sits in the middle-ness, a mind that doesn’t grasp at the pleasant or push away the unpleasant, a mind that holds every aspect of experience, a mind that is completely open and unmoved.
Now, I say this becomes a kind of superpower because when you are able to sit in true equanimity like this, you are then given much more freedom – freedom to not react to situations, to people, to thoughts and feelings.
This all is to say that it gives you discerning wisdom. Rather than automatically react to what’s in front of you, you have a choice: you can pause and reflect on whether engaging with this piece of content will bring you and others more happiness or more suffering. But, again, only when you are mindful will you have the choice.
Anyway, thank you again for taking the time here today to marvel at and understand your mind. You really are a marvelous creature.
Until next time.