The 4 Foundations of Mindfulness

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What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness, as explained by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a renowned mindfulness meditation teacher, “means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgementally.” In other words, it is a conscious direction of our awareness. To be mindful, one must be purposely aware of oneself.

Michelle Fajkus of Elephant Journal describes the four foundations of mindfulness:

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.

Michelle goes on to explain, the third foundation of mindfulness involves exploring experience through the state of mind. Notice what state of mind you are in – anger, sadness, happiness. And notice what feelings are present or absent. This is the foundation that helps us become non-judgmental and non-reactive.

Finally, the fourth foundation, she explains, is experience through the lens of Buddha’s teachings. Or, the dharma. Be mindful of emotional hindrances – desire, restlessness, hatred, doubt – and always notice their presence and absence. Also observe what leads to and supports enlightenment – mindfulness, energy, rapture, concentration.

Finish reading these four foundations of mindfulness here, and master them! Once we understand what causes suffering and leads to our happiness, we will naturally achieve happiness. And when we notice unpleasant experiences, we can simply not react.

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