Hey friends of Tig-Le,
I wanted to share with you my response to two common and important questions that I get relating to mindfulness and meditation.
What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation?
Why don’t you teach meditation to people who haven’t been to mindfulness?
In the tradition I have done much of my training in, the universalist Buddha-dharma tradition, it is taught that the establishment of mindfulness naturally leads to a meditative state. Still, it is not considered to be a meditation by itself. It is also taught that meditation without mindfulness can place good mental health and stability, putting Refuge at risk. To safeguard against this, the teaching follows a pathway of first establishing mindfulness. Once our mindfulness is well established, the mind will naturally come to concentrate in a relaxed, attentive and caring way, making it possible to engage in meditation practices with our mindful mind present safely.
In some contemporary Western models’ mindfulness is taught as the development of awareness. However, this is only one aspect of a much larger and broad-reaching fullness of mind. This quality, named mindfulness, is a natural state of mind present within the human birth. An overview or all-encompassing state of awareness that is deeply grounded in ethical participation, engagement and response to the vast arrays of experiences that may arise within the human life as a result of living in the world.
Traditionally, mindfulness includes developing our awareness potential, not separate from but interwoven with a state of mind that is orientated towards the purposeful establishment, increase and maintenance of ethical participation, engagement and response with life. This involves active kindness and care for all aspects of the human experience, whether our own or another’s, and it includes our relationship with the world system and the body of life. In teaching, this is often referred to as establishing the dialogues of mindfulness. It involves learning how to identify, communicate compassionately with, and become familiar with finding calm, ease, and friendship with these arising experiences of life and living. We do this with the experiences and arisings we are aware of, not chasing every possible experience. And we do this with intention, in a purposeful way that directs and supports our own, others, and the world’s peacefulness and health.
Establishing mindfulness actively requires that we take an objective interest in this human life and living through our own experiences. It requires that we increasingly cultivate our natural goodness, deep respect and friendship towards ourselves, others, and the world as we investigate what it is to be human and alive, physically and emotionally, getting to know our feeling states, becoming familiar with our mental processes, and our spiritual connection and relationship with life and Earth.
Mindfulness training gives us a straightforward engagement process and training pattern to do all of this, untangling us from the unhelpful conditioning, habits and experiences of excessive self-analysis and the harsh judgments and criticisms of ourselves and others that many of us carry. The techniques for the establishment of mindfulness show us a pathway of friendship and care for whom and for what we encounter, whether we are meeting ourselves more closely or discovering other lives. The foundation techniques leading to mindfulness help us disentangle from the purely personal opening to a more all-encompassing view of our shared humanness constantly arising in and moving through us. All our lived experiences are expressions of the many aspects of the living, breathing body of life that are embedded in the nature of the world system; they are not just ours alone.
When we start to see and dialogue with experiences in this mindful way, our awareness comes to rest naturally with us, becoming increasingly attentive, caring, and coherent, refining itself into a calm, concentrated state. Now the mind naturally may move into a meditative state; coupled with an awareness of this state and the dialogues of kindness and care, we can safely engage in meditation practices that support the unfolding and the further development, investigation and understanding of life and living. This is also where practice can become more challenging, so we proceed with care. We move into meditation with our mindfulness.
We all know that if we want to be skilled at something, music, sports, crafts, and livelihoods, first we must study, learn, train, and practice until we have developed knowledge, understanding and the ability to apply this knowledge skillfully. This is true even with our natural talents. Mindfulness and meditation require the same effort.
We can have thoughts and feelings that disrespect the sacred nature of life and living. Thoughts full of aggression, hatred, violence, and harm. They can arise unexpectedly in relation to lived experience and present occurring conditions. These thoughts and feelings can lead to actual harm, to harmful psychologies and behaviours within us, towards others, expressed in the World. However, when seen through the lens of mindfulness, an awareness governed by a deep interest in kindness and care, these unhelpful thoughts and states can be brought within the protections of a deep-reaching calm state that allows for a healthy, peaceful, healing response.
If all we do is have an ongoing dialogue with ourselves, a narrative that tells us that how we look, that what we think or feel is wrong, shameful, immoral, unnatural or even incorrect, then we scare, threaten and discourage our loving, creative hearts, our open minds. We chase awareness away, disparaging it, and it becomes destabilised, insecure, and restless because now we are not a safe place for it to be, for it to rest, for it to find Refuge, the experience of the safety, security and protection of our caring goodness. This is what all minds require: the natural ease and calm attentiveness of our presence so the mind may function coherently. As we develop this Refuge, this mindfulness further, awareness becomes empowered, finding the freedom to focus on the efforts and activities that give rise to a more profound value and worth within our own lives, for the lives of others, and the health and peace of the world.
When the mind can operate from a state of Refuge, meditation can be undertaken safely. Within the realms of self-governing care, supported by its own mindfulness, able to navigate its own difficulties as required, in a continuation and maintenance of calm and seeking support when needed, the mind can know of the stable ground of its own being. Caution, though, it will get disturbed and disrupted again!
Meditation, as I have been taught, is to take a specific aspect of life and living and place it in front of mindful awareness (Mindfulness = fostering a state of mind that is purposefully attentive and actively engaging in the development of Refuge, the kindness, calming, and caring for experiences that arise) as a way to take interest in it and explore its’ nature in a sustained and open way to develop knowledge of mind and life and what fosters Refuge, health and peace for all forms of life and the living world.
Using refined impersonal and objective questioning, along with a variety of meditative techniques, some of which is contemplative and reflective, Shinē (calm abiding), Vipashyana (insight, knowledge of being), amongst others, to objectively explore the shared nature of experience, of the human psyche, mind and life, with an openness to discoveries and insights that allow for an ever-deepening exploration and direct knowing of the vastness of the nature of life, living, the world system and beyond. Much more can be said here on meditation though it is more helpful to do so in person.
To teach these meditation techniques to any mind struggling with its stability, to a mind and life that needs Refuge, is not my right. It would be reckless and irresponsible of me to share meditative training and practices that may destabilise or rupture the ground for which the life is looking to stabilise. I take this responsibility very seriously, remaining open and deeply interested in sharing teaching and practice.
All our natural mindful intelligence and innate mindful hearts are continually actively looking for the supports of Refuge. In desperation, in our need for support, we sometimes grasp at whatever may keep us afloat. Initially looking or behaving like a refuge, these thoughts and behaviours can cause more significant harm over time, diminishing what is sometimes referred to traditionally as our True Mindful Refuge.
All lives seek to develop health and peacefulness, to establish calm and stability, and so all minds and lives require my deepest respect by firstly sharing the practices that lead to the further development of innate mindfulness. If an interest in meditation practices arises, these can be safely taught and explored in a graduated way.
All my teachers have taught me over the last 35 years that a governing state of mind that is sincerely interested in the health and peace of others and the world is required for the safe, purposeful exploration of human nature, psyche, mind and life through meditation, and to explore the heart of the unfolding world if we are to produce the inner calm and clarity that can lead to the development of a cultivated compassionate human mind and life.
And so, through Tig-Le House, we share mindfulness and meditation practices supporting All Refuge.
If reading this prompts further interest and questions, please come to a session or retreat with me through Tig-Le House, and I look forward to sharing teaching and engaging in open dialogues.
May all that lives be well and happy.
Ian Hackett – teacher and director of Tig-Le House