Monday, May 28, 2012

Recognizing and Overcoming the Challenges of Mindfulness Practice

Every day, I have been reading a few pages of  The Wings of Awakening, Thanissaro Bikkhu's compiling and commentary of the Buddha's most important teachings, as declared by the Buddha himself. And I am struck by the clarity of the instructions at our disposal. From there to the question, how come not more practice from more people, only one small step that I would like to cross here. 

We know what to do. We know the reward. So, what's the problem?

Starting with myself, I need to reflect on all the moments when I am not mindful, all the missed opportunities to steady the mind and gain more wisdom, all the small forks in the road when I choose the mindless route. Why spend time surfing the Internet, when I could be practicing? Why get impatient while waiting for something, somewhere, when I could use the time as a mindful pause? Why go shopping for more clothes that I don't really need, when I could choose to sit instead and learn from the underline anxiety? Why all those moments, spent acting against my own self-interest?

I sat down this morning and reflected on all the reasons why I have not been more mindful, and why potentially others are not either. And came down with this list:

Let me start first by blaming the environment :). Silicon Valley, out of all places is not exactly conducive to the practice of mindfulness. In the world of Facebook and Google, it is easy to loose sight of the real thing. 

Second is laziness. It takes great mental energy to stay mindful. This is why right effort is part of the teachings. To not give into the temptation to escape a difficult moment, whether because of physical or mental pain, requires willpower. 

Third is the compulsion of mindless computing. The web has brought me so many wonderful gifts, including ready access to the teachings and to many Dharma friends. It has also hooked my mind into unhealthy habits that are hard to give up. 

Fourth is delusion, or the mind's tendency to fool itself into thinking erroneous thoughts. Leading me to drown into hindrances, for a bit too long before I can see them for what they really are. 

This is why I need the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha to keep me on task, 24/7. The Buddha, whose gentle wisdom welcomes me each time I open my computer:

The Dharma, to be found at Access to Insight, the awesome repository of teachings, accessible through just one click. The Sangha in its many forms: online here and also on Twitter and Facebook, but more importantly, in the flesh at Insight Meditation Center, my local center. Making the time each week to reconnect, and remember to practice as I join my friends there for a sitting, followed by a talk from our teacher, Gil Fronsdal.

Which are your greatest challenges to mindfulness practice? 


  1. When I want mindfulness, the challenge is greed. When I'm disturbed by my lack of mindfulness, the challenge is hate. When I'm completely neutral to mindfulness, the challenge is delusion.

  2. Hummm . . . not quite sure I follow you there. There is such a thing as wholesome desire particularly when it comes to wanting to cultivate mindfulness. Similarly being disturbed by lack of mindfulness, is more of a hard look at one's lack of effort, and the causes and conditions that are contributing. As far as being neutral to mindfulness, do you mean not caring?

  3. "There is such a thing as wholesome desire particularly when it comes to wanting to cultivate mindfulness."

    I'd say there are plenty of "wholesome desires" that are oppressive. Ever met a born again? Their pleasure is my suffering.

    Desire, in any form, is the pig in the middle of the wheel of deluded exsistance. I would be particularly wary of the desire of mindfulness, enlightment, or anything else gift wrapped in the Buddha's robe. It's even more seductive. Dogen Zengi called monks who were fooled by this shavelings.

    And by neutral, I mean so deluded you don't know if you like it or you don't- you could say robotic. This could look like robotic mindfulness.

    How does grasping for wisdom iluminate that there is nothing to grasp for and that grasping leads to more grasping? How is being "mindful" in itself wholesome? Theives are mindful, too.

  4. Please disregard my comment. I was a cranky Zen student who was reading Hakuin.

    Thank you,

  5. Great post!!!... Can see myself in your 'reflection' to some extent. For me though it is mainly busyness (I can't stop doing, planning ...) I create space during my meditation but I have difficulty coming back to the awareness of the here and now during the day... work in progress! :))) And Laziness, after the busy busy busy day, well I become lazy and sometimes exhausted (I have to admit). So even though I know the best would be to meditate, well I go in front of the Tv, or in front of the computer... well any excuses to not meditate.
    Thanks for sharing. Best wishes Dharma Sis. Em.