The Four Foundations of Wise Mindfulness.

Via Michelle Margaret Fajkus
on May 8, 2012
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Everything is in Constant Flux.

“Believing that we have to get to somewhere special in order to be free sets us up for suffering. But we can realize that wherever we are, we can come back to the breath, come back to the moment. It does not matter where we just were, it does not matter how bad it was. We just drop all that and come back to the breath.”

~ Cheri Huber

{part seven of eightfold path series}

Mindfulness. The word, like all words, is just a finger pointing at the moon. And yet, it is what we must do in order to live fully. It is the means and the end. Of what is the mind full? Of whatever is happening in the present moment. Bare attention.

According to Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana,

“Mindfulness alone has the power to reveal the deepest level of reality available to human observation. At this level of inspection, one sees the following: (a) all conditioned things are inherently transitory, (b) every worldly thing is, in the end, unsatisfying; and (c) there are really no entities  that are unchanging or permanent, only processes.”

The Buddha’s teachings on Right (or Wise) Mindfulness outlines four foundations—training in these four frames of reference can be thought of as looking through four different windows into our experience.

1. The physical body

Start with attention to the breath going in and the breath going out. It is best to start with sitting meditation. We can always connect mindfully with the breathing. From there, we expand to paying attention to posture, daily activities, interactions, and ultimately every single thing—all by connecting to direct experience, the physicality of what’s going on in the body and what is being perceived by the five senses.

We start to recognize what is body and what is mind. Look at your hand. You have a concept of “hand.” Then close your eyes and feel your hand from the inside. This is the elemental, pre-conceptual experience of “hand.”

2. The feeling of our experience

Notice how each and every fleeting experience is either pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. We typically like and want the pleasant, dislike and avoid the unpleasant. This foundation of mindfulness enables us to begin to understand the process of reactivity.

3. The state of mind

The third foundation involves exploring experience through the state of the mind. What color lens are we looking through? Anger? Mindfulness? Sadness? Happiness? Notice whether greed, aversion, desire, delusion, distraction and concentration are present or absent. This practice moves us in the direction of non-reactivity and non-judgment.

4. The dharma

Finally, the fourth foundation views experience through the lens of the Buddha’s teachings. We can be mindful of the hindrances (sense desire, restlessness, sleepiness, hatred, doubt) and constantly notice their presence or absence. What factors lead to the creation—and to the cessation—of these hindrances? Likewise, we observe what supports the arising and sustainability of the factors of enlightenment, which include mindfulness, investigation, energy, rapture, tranquility, concentration and equanimity.

The good news is that when the mind understands what causes suffering and what leads to happiness, the mindfulness will naturally move toward happiness by letting go of clinging and craving. This unfolds naturally.

May all beings be happy.



Read the whole series:

Right View: Elationship.

Right Intention: Surrender & Be Kind.

Right Speech: May Your Voice Be Full of Truth, Gentleness & Purpose.

Wise Action: Anything Could Happen Next.

Right Livelihood: What Makes Work Worthwhile?

Wise Effort: Neither Slacking Nor Overachieving.

Stay tuned for the final installment next week on Wise Concentration.


Editor: Brianna Bemel


About Michelle Margaret Fajkus

Michelle Margaret is a Gemini yogini, writer, teacher and retreat leader who founded Yoga Freedom in 2002 in Austin, Texas. Her home since 2012 is Lake Atitlán, Guatemala where she lives in a tiny eco cabin with her Colombiano partner and their adorable daughter, dog and two gatos. Michelle has been writing this column for elephant journal since 2010 and has written some inspiring books, with more on the way. She leads yoga and mindfulness retreats and serves as the retreat managers for the stunningly beautiful Villa Sumaya on majestic Lago Atitlan. Her lineage is the very esoteric Yoga Schmoga, which incorporates hatha yoga asana, dharma (Buddhist) teachings, pranayama (breath work), yin yoga, mindfulness practices and meditation. Join Michelle on retreat in Guatemala!


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