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Living This Life Fully

shining the light of mindfulness

Now that the longest night of the year is behind us, I am looking forward to more and more light. Although I accept and even rejoice in the changing interplay of light and dark, I definitely prefer longer days and shorter nights. But my desire is not just for more sunlight. I also want greater mindfulness to brighten how I live those days and nights.

Munindra talked about mindfulness (he often used the Pali word sati) as “an illuminating factor” because it provides the brilliance of a lamp in shadowy places. “Where there is light, there cannot be any darkness,” he would say. “You are asked to develop mindfulness because sati illuminates the whole mental field. As soon as things come, you see them as they are.”

He pointed out that the problem with darkness is that when we don't see thoughts, emotions, and actions stemming from the three poisonous roots—greed, hatred, and delusion—they “get fed.” But when such thoughts, emotions, and actions are exposed to the light of mindfulness, “they remain unfed, unnourished.” This allows them to dissolve.

The light of mindfulness also serves to protect the mind. It guards against negativity that spirals into obsessive thinking and emotional states or regrettable verbal and physical conduct.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions anymore, but daily I end my early morning meditation period with the intention of clarity in thought, word, and deed. I don’t necessarily achieve it, but I keep trying. I simply pick myself up and rededicate my intention. If I catch the lapse quickly enough, I start again right then. In any case, the next morning, I begin with the same intention to be clear.

I used to give myself a really hard time—unmindfully finding fault for not being perfect. Then, after years of practicing vipassana, I realized that I was feeding the root of aversion instead of shining the light of mindfulness on what I thought, said, or did. I was reacting rather than maintaining a neutral response that could lead to more skillfulness in the next moment. And I was not treating myself, a fallible human being, with loving-kindness and compassion. If I’ve learned nothing else from the Dharma—and I’ve learned more than I ever imagined—it’s that berating myself is not useful. Shedding light on what’s happening and attending to what’s needed is useful. Feeding the darkness isn’t.

Knowing that teachers are as human as the rest of us has helped me diminish unproductive self-reproach. Munindra admitted that he wasn’t fully realized, fully awakened. Yet he never tore himself down for it. He just kept his feet on the path, always practicing.

May you experience more light in your heart and mind in 2011.
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