2021-06-22 Mindfulness of the Body (2 of 4) Clear Comprehension of Activities
9:51PM Jun 22, 2021
We will continue today with some of the teachings from the foundational mindfulness teachings of the Buddha – from the discourse on the four foundations of mindfulness. It begins with a very strong emphasis on mindfulness of the body. We know that from other teachings of the Buddha that this seems pretty foundational to him – the practice of being connected to and aware of the body.
In fact, there are strong statements he makes that there is no variance of awakening, without mindfulness of the body. So I would like to read the next exercise in this discourse, on mindfulness of the body. It goes approximately like this – I paraphrase slightly. Instead of "monastic," I will render this as "practitioner."
"A practitioner is one: who acts with clear comprehension when going forward and returning; who acts with clear comprehension when looking ahead and looking away; who acts with clear comprehension when flexing and extending their limbs; who acts in clear comprehension when wearing clothes, carrying their outer robe and bowl, carrying their plates and dishes and whatever they need; who acts with clear comprehension when eating, drinking, consuming food and tasting; who acts with clear comprehension when defecating and urinating; who acts with full and clear comprehension when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, and keeping silent."
Here there are many ordinary activities of daily life. When looking one way or the other, walking or sitting, moving our limbs, legs and feet, lifting or stretching or whatever we are doing with our arms – we clearly comprehend what we are doing.
I am lifting my hand now to make this point. I am clearly comprehending that my hand goes up. I am making my point with an Italian gesture, which I learned growing up in Italy – the fingers coming together. When going to the bathroom, one clearly comprehends, one is present and there for it.
This clear comprehension is a very important term. The word is sampajāna. Some people translate it in different ways. But I like "clear comprehension." The root of the verb is to know or comprehend. There is an emphatic prefix – to really know. So I like "clear comprehension" – rather than "clear knowing." "Knowing" implies something simpler, whereas "comprehension" is richer in meaning.
In fact the commentaries suggest that clear comprehension means to clearly understand the purpose. To understand why we would be doing something. It is a purposeful life. We clearly comprehend the suitability of what we are doing – the appropriateness and timeliness of what we're doing. We are living a purposeful life that is suitable for the circumstances. We are living appropriately, with an appropriate response to situations. We are doing it with some sense of purpose – not casually. We are not barreling ahead with habits of mind. We have a sense of what is valuable to do where and how to do it.
It also means to understand the pasture of what we are doing. The pasture means where we get our nourishment as we are present for things. We are present with mindfulness in our direct experience of body, feelings, mind, and dharmas – the four foundations of mindfulness.
There are so many different places our minds can be. We know the mind stream that we live in can often take us away in distractions and fantasy. We can get swept up in irritation, complaining, criticalness, fear, anxiety, and ruminations of all kinds. We can be lost in the past, and in planning and anticipating the future.
Some of that mindstream is wonderful and appropriate. It can be part of the pleasure of life. But often it is not really so nourishing and supportive for us. We hope to live a purposeful life that is appropriate for the circumstance, and a life we feel is beneficial. This is nourishing and supportive for me – and for others.
To be present and clearly aware of what we are doing, as we are doing it, is beneficial for the world. When we do not have that clear comprehension is when the old habits, and some of our unhealthy motivations and purposes can take over. Sometimes we say what we regret, when later we feel sorry for we did. We can feel and act in ways that are stressful through the day. We get tired and exhausted by the end of the day by the stress of what we are doing.
What I think is wonderful about these instructions on clear comprehension of activities – all the simple, ordinary activities of daily life, which we all are doing all the time – is that it takes the mindfulness practice off the cushion. Mindfulness is not only about meditating. There is a non-separation, a holistic quality for how mindfulness is practiced when it really involves our whole life – all the activities we do.
It is in all the activities of life and in meditation that there is the growth and growing of mindfulness. Growing a practice. Over time we learn more and more how this practice can be nourishing and supportive – moment by moment. We learn that being mindful – being aware – just feels better than the alternative of the mind stream getting involved in reactivity.
It feels healthy and satisfying to be here and present. In order to have that satisfaction, it really helps that we know how to be grounded in the body. Then the awareness can flow through the body, and be aware in a way that is not colored or influenced by the stressful ways of thinking – the unhelpful ways of thinking and the unhelpful attitudes we have.
We learn healthy attitudes. We learn supportive ways of thinking, and being in the world – not in a way that is denying everything and putting up blinders.
Actually, it is the opposite. It is the ability to be present with it all in an open way. The more we can ground ourselves in clear comprehension, the more we really appreciate the opportunity to be aware of all the different things that are going on. This includes what is difficult – what is difficult about ourselves – and what is challenging in the world.
We do it grounded, settled, and open in a clear way. To do this is a training, a practice. For some of us, we begin learning this in meditation. Then the great thing is to be able to take what we are learning there and begin applying it to the ordinariness of our daily life. These ordinary activities of daily life are not done unconsciously or on automatic pilot. They are the training ground – a supportive ground for living a spiritual life.
To use language that I don't use a lot, but which may be evocative or captivating for you, or it gets your attention: to live a life that is sacred in all the little details of everyday life. To see; to experience the sacred in going forward and returning. Participating in a sacred way with looking ahead and looking away. To experience the sacred in bending and extending one's limbs. To really feel the sacrament of putting on clothes, wearing them, or carrying things with our hands. To feel the sacredness of the attention, the presence, the engagement, in eating, drinking, and tasting.
To discover the sacredness of all the different aspects of our life as we live it. It moves through us in this way. The life stream from evolutionary times comes down through us and has created all the different ways we have to be – we have to live – in order to sustain our life, incl defecating and urinating. To feel the sacredness, the specialness, the nourishment of walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, and keeping silent. All of them.
All these ordinary activities that we are all involved in every day – much of the day. Here is where we discover this valuable stream of life activity that is better than some of the alternatives of the mental mind streams – streams of attitude and preoccupations that are so easy to fall into.
May you really discover and value your ordinary activities as a place to cultivate a sacred life of freedom, generosity, love, and nourishment.
Maybe for these next 24 hours, you can explore how bringing attention to all the little activities of life – the little and big activities of what you are doing – how that can be nourishing and appropriate for you. Explore how to do them with a sense of purpose and appropriateness.
And may you be delighted by the opportunity to do this. So thank you all very much.