September 5, 2014

Mindfulness Isn’t Enough: How to Live our Dharma.

Tammy T. Stone

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”


Life is paradoxical, yet simple.

The two wings of the bird are needed for her to fly high and glide with grace. With just one, she won’t be able to get off the ground. We, too, need two dovetailed qualities.

Mindfulness isn’t enough; we need compassionate action too. Mindfulness, or daily life practice, or being, must be paired with action, with compassion or doing.

Hope and fear are also two sides of the same coin. So are attachment and aversion. Life is a matter of precarious balance. Holding on and letting go.

And then there is birth and death. No matter how many times we read or think about the fact that life is impermanent and ends in death and that everything is actually changing all the time, it only really sinks in when we experience drastic change or huge loss.

We want a sense of control.

We want, as Pema Chodron says, “solid ground beneath our feet,” a firm foundation of righteousness and security on which to stand. (But when we think we’ve got it, this is an illusion.)

We want to know things. We want to understand.

We want to be present, mindful, happy, inspired, inspiring. This is a worthy path. Yet it’s important to remember that living in the present moment 100 percent of the time isn’t actually very practical. Sometimes, we think about the past and reflect. Sometimes we feel nostalgic. Sometimes we dwell on or obsess about things from the past. This is when we want to heighten awareness and note our tendency toward rumination (or whatever it may be).

Wisdom comes through time, reflection on experiences, lessons learned in daily life and relationship.

My intent is to be present as much of the time as possible, paying attention to what I’m doing, who I’m with, where I am, my mind and body, my actions and influences.

Sometimes, I think about the past. Sometimes, I plan for the future, knowing however that those plans will serve as a guide, a vision and not an expectation or delusion.

Maturation of mindfulness occurs with time and discipline.

Buddhist teacher Gil Fronsdal suggests there are always three things happening in any situation: What’s happening? What are you doing? How are you? They work together and overlap.

We can view reality as it is, pay attention to how we are responding and how we feel.

What’s Happening

We can address, “What’s happening?” wisely by looking at the nature of what’s happening in this moment. Checking in. Asking, am I in the present, fully experiencing this?

What We’re Doing

We can examine, with openness and curiosity, just what is it that we are doing. How are we reacting or responding to this moment, this experience?

How We Are

We can address the question, “How are you?” by working with emotion in meditation.

Gil argues that the question, “How are you?” is the inquiry into our emotional state, our energy, our health or lack of health, and is the most important aspect of human living. Just ask yourself, “How am I?”


Go back to, “What you do.” Sit in meditation. Also: act in the world. Mindfully speaking, eating, walking, traveling and so on. Practice generosity. Done appropriately, generosity nourishes our hearts and benefits others.

The mind is really just a series of activities: thoughts, ideas, beliefs, memories. Feelings. Mindfulness enables us to see these activities in a clear way. To see emptiness and form. To realize that everything is neither one nor two.

How to Live Our Dharma

Be mindful. Look at what’s happening, what you’re doing and how you are in the present moment. Then communicate, act, behave and aspire—with compassion, love and kindness.

If, “we know we are in dharma when we cannot think of anything else we would rather be doing with our life,” let’s go out and find the things we can do to benefit all beings and the planet, our passions and purposes.

Mindfulness is an absolutely essential element of a happy, meaningful life. So is compassionate action. May peace and the force be with you!


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Editor: Travis May

Photo: Tammy T. Stone

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