Dear Still Water Friends,
It is the first of the month and we have several people here for the first time, so perhaps it is time to go over the basics of the practice: in part for the new members and in part for us to focus on the core of the practice.
There really are just two fundamental elements to the practice: meditation and mindful observation. These two elements, when practiced, enable us to experience, to varying degrees, what the Buddha experienced. He experienced a oneness to the universe. From his experience, he saw that we are connected with other beings and elements in the universe in fundamental ways.
Unlike other major religious figures, he did not envision an external god but rather, he viewed it as a statement of the way of the universe. His view is not mystical and also unlike other religions it is not in contradiction with science. In fact, science and mindfulness are mutually supportive. The current Dali Lama has stated clearly that if Buddhist beliefs are contradicted by scientific findings, Buddhists should review their thinking. He says this with the full confidence that if there are contradictions, they will be minor and will not challenge the basic tenants of the religion.
So Mindfulness claims that if we practice meditation in one form or another and if we mindfully observe the world around us without judging it, we too will experience ourselves as an integral part of the world around us. We will see that our views of ourselves as just encased within our skins are far too limited. We will see that our existence is without temporal or physical bounds.
How can this happen? Our experience is that we are individuals separate from other individuals and things. It seems contradictory to think that this is not true. Yet current scientific thinking is really closer to Buddhism than it is to our common every day experiences. We have known for 80 years that the thing we view as matter is really just a particular form of energy. We know that there are no tiny little balls of matter at all. Scientists generally believe that the large majority of the universe is beyond our abilities to detect with our five senses. We know that our bodies’ cells replace themselves many times over during our lives so there is no real physical continuity to our bodies. Our real selves cannot be our bodies because we have many bodies during our life times. We know that our thoughts change many times in our lifetimes so we cannot say that our real selves are our thoughts. So what is our essence? The Buddha says that our essence is the oneness of the universe.
We know that all of our decisions are made by primitive parts of our brain which we can barely detect. Our conscious thoughts are interpreted by our unconscious primitive brains that lead to decisions, so that even our conscious decisions are not what we think them to be.
We know that we are great at pattern recognition and that nearly everything we do is based on patterns we remember.
And what mindfulness does is to put us in touch with all of that. It is really quite simple yet profound. As we mindfully and non-judgmentally observe the world around us we assemble the facts of our universe without the filtering of our preconceptions. As we meditate, we release our minds to assemble patterns we are unable to detect in the hustle and bustle of day to day living. Meditation also provides us with awareness of the portions of the brain that we generally cannot access. In essence, the subconscious becomes partially conscious. It enables us to understand, non-verbally, the real reasons that we and others do the things we do. It provides us with glimpses of how interconnected we really are.
There have been many scientific studies now that clearly show that mindfulness changes what goes on in our brains. Scholars are now convinced that mindfulness practices help rewire the brain in ways that we do not see in those who do not practice mindfulness. The scientific literature is now growing to show that it makes a difference in how we interpret the world.
Mindfulness is not mystical. It does not require faith or belief. It is empirical and demonstrable. The Buddha observed a profound characteristic of the universe and he has told us a way that we can experience it as well. Those methods are now being shown to have the impact that the Buddha claimed they would.
Also, because this Thursday is the first Thursday of the month, beginning at 6:30 p.m., we will be offering a brief orientation to mindfulness practice and the Still Water community.