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ROSE-COLORED GLASSES: Mindfulness of Mind or Consciousness

by Philip L. Jones

Perhaps you've heard the expression that the world looks cheery through rose-colored glasses. This points to the experience that our attitudes, intentions and moods affect the way that we see the world. For instance, you may have noticed that if you wake up in a grumpy mood, you often find that your day is colored by that mood. As a result the day is a series of irritating events. On another day, though, you might wake up with a bright and cheery mood. In this situation you might notice that even when unpleasant events occur during the day, they just don't weigh you down. Moods such as these are sometimes called mind-states, which is an apt term since, as we've seen, when we are caught up in a mood it tends to set the tone for our state of mind.

Just as moods influence and limit our range of responses to an event, our intentions and emotions can as well. For instance, when our intention is to find a ripe tomato at the market, our mind may be so influenced by that intention that we do not notice the other ripe vegetables available for our meal. The mind is so conditioned by this intention that there is a kind of tunnel vision that limits our ability to see what is before us in this moment. Or, when we are driving if someone cuts us off, intense anger may arise in the mind. If the mind is filled with anger at this point, then the only possible responses we may see are aggressive ones such as angrily honking the horn, yelling, making a rude gesture or riding on that person's bumper.

When we are caught in the moods, intentions or emotions that arise in the mind, we are said to be identified with them and regard them as who we are, for instance "I'm angry" or "I'm happy." When we are identified with these aspects of mind and leave them outside of awareness, we have less flexibility and clarity about how to respond effectively in a situation. We are simply subject to the conditioning from our past experiences, rather than having a fresh response to the actual situation in this moment.

Mindfulness of the mind or consciousness involves becoming aware, or mindful, of the state of the mind. We notice whether it is a mind filled with sense-desire, a mind filled with anger or fear, a confused mind, a clear mind, a concentrated mind, etc. By meeting the mind-states with attention that is free of judgment, decision-making or commentary, we are in effect stepping outside of these mind-states. This creates some space, which allows us to choose how to respond to them, possibly responding by simply noticing them and allowing them to come and go in awareness. An analogy would be simply noticing what the weather is outside. Mindfulness of mind is similar to noticing what the weather is inside.

Instructions for Mindfulness of Mind

When speaking or thinking of the state of mind, it is useful to refer to it as “There is anger (or desire, confusion, etc.) in the mind” rather than stating “I'm angry (etc.).” This helps to loosen the identification with mind-states.

• Begin as previously instructed using the breath as the primary object of meditation.
• After developing some concentration, broaden the field of awareness to notice the state of the mind. Is it calm and clear, agitated, confused, or does it have some other quality? Simply open to it with mindfulness, allowing the state of mind to reveal itself to you.
• If there is judgment about the mind-state that is noticed, at this point in practice simply let go of the judgment, if possible, and return to the breath, settling the mind once again.
• If you become lost in thought and you notice it, appreciate that moment of noticing, of waking up and being mindful. Then gently return your attention to the breath and continue to follow it.
• Then again, after developing some concentration, broaden the field of awareness to notice the state of the mind.
• If you ever feel confused about what you are experiencing, see if you can be aware that it is a mind state with confusion.
• If you find a mind-state too difficult to be with, simply return your attention to the breath.
• Continue this practice until your meditation period is over.
• During the day, take a few moments to be mindful of your breath, body sensations, feeling and mind-state.

SKILLFUL AND UNSKILLFUL STATES OF MIND

As we begin to have more awareness of mind-states, we can also reflect on the fact that some mind-states bring more happiness, more peacefulness into our lives while others bring more difficulty. States of generosity, kindness, joy have different effects on us than states of greed, fear, anger and aversion. As you investigate, or open, to the different mind-states and actually let yourself experience deeply what they are like, it will become more apparent whether they lead you to peace or to difficulty. Part of what we are doing as we investigate and open to these mind states is we begin to see how they create the stress in our lives. What we will also begin to see is that we can feed and cultivate our state of mind. If, when anger arises, we buy into the angry thoughts then we are actually feeding the anger. We are giving it energy and planting seeds, laying the conditions, for more anger to arise. The same is true for kindness or generosity. In this way, mindfulness of skillful and unskillful states of mind lays the groundwork for cultivating those mind-states that lead to more harmony, peacefulness and contentment in our lives.

Instructions for Mindfulness of Skillful and Unskillful States of Mind

• Whether doing sitting meditation or simply bringing mindfulness to your everyday life activities, notice the state of mind that is present.
• Reflect on whether this mind-state contributes to peacefulness or stress in this moment. (This does not mean spending a lot of time analyzing. It simply means noticing the state of mind and body. Is there agitation and distress with the current situation, or is there contentment whether the situation is pleasant, unpleasant or neutral?)
• Notice the effect on the mind-state, if any, when it is met with mindfulness and compassionate acceptance and letting go as contrasted with judgment and holding on or pushing away.
• If you ever feel confused about what you are experiencing, see if you can be aware that it is a mind state with confusion.
• If you find a mind-state too difficult to be with, simply return your attention to the breath.

 

 

 
 

© 2005, 2006 Philip L. Jones
 
     
 
 

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© 2007, 2011, Philip L. Jones