Contemplation of the state of mind

Let me discuss the third aspect of mindfulness with regard to our minds. It is called the contemplation of the state of mind (chittanupassana). Rahula (1996) notes that meditators should be fully aware of their minds whether they are passionate or detached, whether they are overpowered by hatred, ill-will, jealousy, or are full of love and compassion; whether their minds are deluded or have a clear and right understanding of their feelings. Generally, people are more accustomed to looking at other people’s attitude and behaviour, rather than their own mind. In meditation, it helps to have a humble attitude: this helps one to observe one’s own mind dispassionately. One should make the effort to correct one’s false views, as if looking in a mirror.

When feelings come into awareness, the meditator should not cling to them because they are pleasant nor avoid them because they are unpleasant. There should be no attitude of criticizing or judging between right and wrong, or good and bad. One should simply observe, watch, examine and, most importantly, let go of them. In doing so, one is a not a judge, but should be like a scientist. When people observe their own mind, they can start to see its true nature clearly; a thought and feeling arises, persists and disbands, and another thought comes and follows the same process. By observing this arising and passing away, one is no longer deluded into thinking that thoughts are permanent. When they see the true nature of the mind, they may become dispassionate with regard to their emotions and thoughts. Thus they may become more detached and free, further able to regard feelings and sensations as impermanent.

Students who are under acute stress due to overpowering anger and hatred are, paradoxically, often not self-reflexive!y really aware that they are angry. The moment a student becomes aware and mindful of the state of anger in his mind, that is the moment he “sees” his anger. Then he faces the choice of whether to act outI they struggle with their concentration, they can bring mindfulness practice on the breath to daily studies. For instance, when they read a book they should keep total awareness on the words. They have to take time and concentrate on their breath until they feel calmness, mentally and physically. This peace of mind helps them to maintain undisturbed bare attention on their studies. I will now explore more clearly how this mindfulness can be implemented by students to cope with negative emotions and feelings such as anger and restlessness arising from their daily lives.

As a first step of Bhavana, when students are mindful of their breath, it helps them to calm the mind and the body. This calmness of the mind and the body helps them to be aware of emotions and feelings with a greater clarity. Whenever feelings arise, students can become aware of these feelings and how they change. For instance, if students are aware that their anger is rising up, and they can bring mindful-attention to that fact, then they will have the opportunity to control acting out the anger. Also, in mindfulness one becomes aware of how anger arises, stays awhile and disbands, and that it is not permanent. This may lead students to calm their minds. Many students get stressed or troubled or become violent due to uncontrolled anger or ill-will (Stilwell, Galvin, Kopta, 2000; Swick, 1987). It seems that they may not be “aware” of their anger before they express it in an outburst, and that they only realize it after they express it. Clearly, this type of self-observation cannot be practical for most small children, say around five-years-old, due to an undeveloped cognition at this stage (Crittenden, 1990) but it may help restless teenaged students get rid of uncontrolled negative feelings as I mentioned above.

Although an individual may control their negative feelings in a particular incident, those same feelings may arise again when the environment or situation changes. When that person is mindful of the impermanent nature of those negative feelings, and that these negative emotions can be harmful to oneself as well as to others, one may remain calm, regardless of the specific situation, environment or the people involved. Gunaratana (1991) notes: “breathing is a universal process. All vertebrates breathe in essentially the same manner. All living things exchange gases with their environment in some way or other” (p.48). Therefore, breathing Bhavana can be used by everyone to help them to observe their feelings mindfully. Teaching the ‘mindfulness on the breath’ technique as a first step of Bhavana may help students to practice self-discipline.

In the beginning, one will find that it is not easy to bring the mind to concentrate on breathing even for a few seconds. Students will be amazed to see how the mind becomes distracted, by external sounds and internal conditions such as racing thoughts. They may be frustrated and disappointed by these disturbances and distractions. Even so if they continue this practice at lease once daily, morning or evening, for about five to ten minutes at a time, without giving up their effort, they will gradually begin to concentrate the mind on their breathing (Santina, 1997). After a certain period, depending on their own ability and determination, they will experience a fully concentrated and peaceful mind. Although they still have to go on practicing this regularly, and it is important to know that they must have determination and persistence to achieve the goal. This practice of mindf ulness of breathing is one of the simplest and easiest techniques for students or anybody at the beginning (Kabat-Zin, 1986; Gunaratana, 1997). At moments when they are nervous or excited, such as when taking exams or giving a speech, they can practice mindfulness for a few minutes, and they will see for themselves that they become calm and better able to deal with difficult situations (Segal, Williams & Teasdale, 2002; Rahula, 1996).

For young children, we can make them aware of their presence by the practice of counting breaths. For example, when a student breathes in, he/she should count one, and breathing out, should count two. Thus, they can count up to ten, then count backward and forward for five to ten minutes. This type of practice on breathing helps to hold awareness in the present moment. In an awareness of the present, of how things are, it can be much easier to be one’s own image without damaging his/her social and moral identity, and manage the present situation effectively in a positive manner. Levete (2001) points out: From an early age most of us have been conditioned to regard our negative emotions as unnatural states of mind to be covered over either through suppression or distraction. Contrastingly, positive feelings such as peace, happiness and goodwill should always be a natural, permanent state of being. In reality, the positive image of what we should or should not be thinking, doing or feeling does not work out that way; thought is often in a crisis of conflict: confused, guilty and deeply afraid.
A negative experience is often regarded as unnatural, a personal affront, or personal failure. A consequence of this perception is that habitual thought patterns are divorced from a deeper level of intuitive understanding; an understanding which recognizes and accepts its interdependent connection with the rest of nature. By realizing that, as a self-observant and understanding human, one may be able to see his/her experience differently; the physical body and the process of thoughts are subject to natural laws, positive and negative consequences, impermanence and change. This state of mind empowers one’s awareness of the present moment, and that awareness may lead him/her to cultivate positive thoughts of love, compassion, tolerance, sharing and respect due to a mind that is undistracted, composed and natural.