MINDFULNESS AND AWARENESS
Jeremy W. Hayward
The main theme which we have come back to throughout the book is that it is possible to work through the perceptual process and discover its nature and its foundation. It is possible in this way to bring about a fundamental transformation at the individual and social level that comes from recognizing unconditioned goodness. Many descriptions of this journey of discovery have been recorded both formally and personally in the neo-Confucian, Taoist, Buddhist, and Shambhala teachings. Also, one finds such descriptions, although rather rarely, in Christian-based contemplative literature. Meister Eckhart is the most clear example in the traditional literature, and Thomas Merton the most well known in recent times. According to Merton, "The first thing you have to do before you even start thinking about such a thing as contemplation, is to try to recover your basic natural unity, to reintegrate your compartmentalized being into a coordinated and simple whole and learn to live as a unified human being.
"The contemplative life is primarily a life of unity. A contemplative is one who has transcended division to reach a unity beyond division. It is true that he must begin by separating himself from the ordinary activities of men to some extent. He must recollect himself, turn within in order to find the inner center of spiritual activity which remains inaccessible as long as he is immersed in the exterior business of life. But, once he has found this center, it is very important that he realize what comes next.
"The true contemplative is not less interested than others in normal life, not less concerned with what goes on in the world, but more interested, more concerned.
"The 'reality' through which the contemplative 'penetrates' in order to reach a contact with what is 'ultimate' in it is actually his own being, his own life. The contemplative is not one who directs a magic spiritual intuition upon other objects, but one who, being perfectly unified in himself and recollected in the center of his humility, enters into contact with reality by an immediacy that forgets the division between subject and object."1
Perhaps one of the most extraordinary descriptions, in its clarity and matter-of-fact style, is the personal account of a fifty-year-old California housewife, Bernadette Roberts. After early experiences as a child, Roberts lived a Christian-oriented, Carmelite contemplative life for sixteen years and became convinced in her discovery of the fruition of that journey-oneness with God. She then married and had four children. However, twenty years later, a "second movement," as she calls it, began to happen to her in spite of herself. It was a journey to the complete loss of self and personal God as reference points or conceptual categories and the discovery of what IS. As she says, "Empirical reality is not itself an obstacle to seeing [what is], it is what we think about this reality that creates an obstacle to a transition that otherwise might not have been necessary in the first place." Further, "Self is but a temporary mechanism, useful for a particular way of knowing. Finding out what remains in the absence of self is the pearl of great price, a long journey, a change of consciousness and the beginning of a new life.
"By the time the journey is over, the only possible way of living is in the now-moment. There are no more head-trips-no clinging to a frame of reference, even if it is only the reference of tomorrow's expectation. What is to be done or thought is always under foot, with no need to step aside in order to find out what is to be thought, believed or enacted."
It is clear that for Roberts this journey was a spontaneously discovered one of natural awareness; for she says that, at a very early age, "by watching carefully I discovered that my feelings, emotions and certainly my thoughts, were quite separate and apart from something else that could leap and spread joy at some of the most inappropriate moments."2
My main purpose in presenting the concepts of science in this book has been to help to remove conceptual obstacles to recognition of unconditioned perception, obstacles coming from fixed limited beliefs about the nature of space, time, matter, mind, human nature, and the perceptual process itself. In addition, I suggested that what we now know about the physiology of perception is, at least at the theoretical level, compatible with the process and discoveries of meditation.
However, all of this would be rather beside the point if there were not a specific means, an ongoing discipline, by which each of us might make these discoveries for ourselves, personally. "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day, thou art more lovely and more temperate. . ." makes little sense to someone who has not himself been in love or at least has a human body. A description of a rose is nothing if we cannot see and smell the rose and prick our finger on its thorns. Perhaps we could, just by chance, come upon these discoveries entirely unaided or just by thinking about them hard enough and believing in them. However, just as it is very unlikely that we will be able to sit down at the piano and play beautiful music without any training, so it is very unlikely that we will penetrate the process of perception without training. It is perhaps unfortunate that many of the recent books that argue so cogently for the need for a new vision place little emphasis on discipline, or do not mention it at all. It is a widespread misunderstanding that discovery of our basic nature is a "remote and fascinating experience."3 Yet our original unconditioned nature is the closest to us of all that is. It is what we are when we relax our struggle for conscious control or for greater consciousness of any kind. It is not itself an experience at all, yet it underlies all our experience, even the most mundane. We can discover it in this mundane experience through practice of an awareness discipline. Practice simply clears away the obscuration which prevents us from resting in our unconditioned genuine nature and from perceiving and living in the world from that standpoint. It must also be clear that it is neither the intention nor the result of mindfulness-awareness practice to eliminate thought, as so many Western commentators have implied. On the contrary, as practitioners discover sooner or later, as one realizes the origin and nature of thought, so thought itself becomes clear and precise.
As I have mentioned, the basic practice of Buddhist and 5hambhala teachings is the practice of sitting meditation. This is also known by its Sanskrit term: SHAMATHA-VIPASHYANA. Shamatha means, literally, development of peace. It is also taming the mind or mindfulness. Vipashyana means insight or awareness. So this is also referred to as mindfulness-awareness discipline. In this chapter I will describe the development of mindfulness and awareness.4
Mindfulness is when mind is fully present with whatever action we are executing: placing a flower, wiping a teacup, washing the car, programming a computer. It is attention to detail, careful and almost deliberate. It is identifying fully with one's body, thoughts, and actions so that there is nothing left over, no self-consciousness, no watcher, no split mind. It is not watching what we are doing but simply being fully what we are doing, thinking, and feeling in its smallest, most insignificant detail. Awareness is the quality of sudden openness that comes in when we are fully present. It is a sudden glimpse, a sudden flash of freshness and wider perspective. We cannot discover where it comes from, we cannot hold onto it, and we cannot artificially recreate it. With this quality of openness comes a sense of inquisitiveness, of interest in the environment within which our actions and thoughts take place. Awareness might come in as a gap of openness in our solid train of thought or subconscious gossip. It might be suddenly glimpsing a flower or someone's face from a new perspective. It might be a touch of humor in the middle of a fit of anger. It is the spaciousness in our state of mind in which we realize that our thoughts, emotions, and perceptions are not solid, heavy "things," but simply transparent, energetic, and fundamentally wholesome.
In sitting practice, in order to give oneself the best opportunity for mindfulness and awareness to develop, physical activity is reduced to a minimum. In this way, perceptual stimuli become less crowded, and one has a chance to see the perceptual process in detail. That is, one simply sits, cross-legged, with erect posture. The back is upright and strong, the front open and soft, the head and shoulders strong, the breathing natural, eyes and all the senses open but relaxed, not focused.
As he or she sits, the student becomes mindful of posture and of physical sensation which may be restless, even occasionally painful, or quite relaxed. He becomes mindful of the physical sensation in his trunk, his limbs, and his skull, and of the slight movement of the chest and abdomen, and of the breath going in and out. The breath might be rapid or slow, shallow or deep, and we let it be as it is. Underlying this there is a fundamental quality of well-being and wholesomeness, the dignity of simply sitting there like a mountain without clouds. Body is simply there, solid, earthy, unmoving, and whole. Mindfulness of the solidity of body, of upright dignified posture, of the precision and naturalness of breathing forms the foundation for joining mind and body. This is known, traditionally, as the first foundation of mindfulness.
Next the student may become mindful of the feeling level of experience, which might be pleasurable, painful, or neutral. Feeling also might be particularly body oriented or oriented toward imagination and fantasy. Each physical sensation and each thought comes along colored by some mood, some quality of being pleasing or distasteful or merely boring. Going further into feeling, one might discover a basic sense of fear, a feeling of struggle for survival, of grasping for continued existence and fear that one may not survive. As one begins to let go of this struggle one discovers, with delight, that one is alive. It is a feeling of liveliness and perkiness which nevertheless one cannot cling to. One must simply touch it and let it go, not holding onto it but letting it be. When we realize this quality of liveliness, sitting practice becomes very personal and intimate. It is no longer a foreign idea that we have imposed on ourselves but a very immediate, natural expression of life as such. Although the practice may continue to be often boring and difficult, nevertheless, it has become a part of our stream of existence, and when we occasionally touch the sense of life it can be tremendously refreshing and a basis of natural confidence and delight. This is the second foundation of mindfulness.
A further aspect of mindfulness is the state of mind. One may find that one's mind is very restricted or quite expansive, very tight or rather loose. The mind might be in a state of elation or one of depression, concentrated or scattered. It might seem to be in a rather fine, almost spiritual state, or in a state of coarseness and turmoil. All of these are objects of mindfulness and are not regarded as particularly important in themselves. One might begin to notice also the apparent fickleness of mind, the flickering unsteady quality of thoughts and perceptions. Sometimes the student is able to be there, practicing the discipline, keeping the posture and mindful of body, feelings, and so on. At other times he might drift off, having no idea where he is, then suddenly return to mindfulness. One cannot find out what brought one back, but without any deliberate effort one realizes that one is sitting and returns to mindfulness. Acknowledging this sudden change of mind is the basis of effort in sitting practice. One cannot bring oneself deliberately back when one has drifted off, one can simply recognize that mind comes back naturally and abruptly. The student begins to develop a sense of trust that mindfulness is entirely workable, that it happens, in a sense, without him. One does not have to try to be mindful; rather, mindfulness enters one's being automatically if one sets up the general environment for it by sitting, with the intention to practice, and the appreciation of the possibility of practice. That mindfulness happens without our conscious or unconscious manipulation is a manifestation of our unconditioned goodness and is the reason that genuine mindfulness is possible at all. This is the third foundation of mindfulness.
Finally, the student might become mindful of the contents of mind, of all the variety of different types of thoughts, emotions, and sensations that are constantly streaming through our consciousness. There are quick, darting thoughts; heavy, somber thoughts; religious one begins to let go of this struggle one discovers, with delight, that one is alive. It is a feeling of liveliness and perkiness which nevertheless one cannot cling to. One must simply touch it and let it go, not holding onto it but letting it be. When we realize this quality of liveliness, sitting practice becomes very personal and intimate. It is no longer a foreign idea that we have imposed on ourselves but a very immediate, natural expression of life as such. Although the practice may continue to be often boring and difficult, nevertheless, it has become a part of our stream of existence, and when we occasionally touch the sense of life it can be tremendously refreshing and a basis of natural confidence and delight. This is the second foundation of mindfulness.
A further aspect of mindfulness is the state of mind. One may find that one's mind is very restricted or quite expansive, very tight or rather loose. The mind might be in a state of elation or one of depression, concentrated or scattered. It might seem to be in a rather fine, almost spiritual state, or in a state of coarseness and turmoil. All of these are objects of mindfulness and are not regarded as particularly important in themselves. One might begin to notice also the apparent fickleness of mind, the flickering unsteady quality of thoughts and perceptions. Sometimes the student is able to be there, practicing the discipline, keeping the posture and mindful of body, feelings, and so on. At other times he might drift off, having no idea where he is, then suddenly return to mindfulness. One cannot find out what brought one back, but without any deliberate effort one realizes that one is sitting and returns to mindfulness. Acknowledging this sudden change of mind is the basis of effort in sitting practice. One cannot bring oneself deliberately back when one has drifted off, one can simply recognize that mind comes back naturally and abruptly. The student begins to develop a sense of trust that mindfulness is entirely workable, that it happens, in a sense, without him. One does not have to try to be mindful; rather, mindfulness enters one's being automatically if one sets up the general environment for it by sitting, with the intention to practice, and the appreciation of the possibility of practice.
That mindfulness happens without our conscious or unconscious manipulation is a manifestation of our unconditioned goodness and is the reason that genuine mindfulness is possible at all. This is the third foundation of mindfulness.
Finally, the student might become mindful of the contents of mind, of all the variety of different types of thoughts, emotions, and sensations that are constantly streaming through our consciousness. There are quick, darting thoughts; heavy, somber thoughts; religious and philosophical thoughts; mean thoughts; angry, passionate, dreamy thoughts, and so on. He or she might also become mindful of the overall speed of the thought process: in a traditional analogy, sometimes it is dashing along like a rocky highland stream; at other times it is moving fast but contained like a river running through a steep canyon; still other times it may be moving very slowly like a broad river; and, occasionally, it might be calm and still like a lake without waves. One can be mindful of each of these qualities of mental processes equally. None is regarded as more desirable than another. They simply are the contents of one's mind as it is. The student discovers a further sense of his human dignity and confidence; he can sit there fully mindful, unmoving, and unperturbed as his thoughts go through constant changes. This is the fourth foundation of mindfulness.
The four categories of objects of mindfulness that we have just described- mindfulness of bodily sensation, of feeling, of state of mind, and of mental contents comprise all of our psychophysical being. Traditionally they are known as the four foundations of mindfulness.5
When one begins to practice mindfulness, one may find that things do not go smoothly. One may be very bored for a while, then quite restless. One may become quite angry and upset or quite depressed. Occasionally one may have a glimpse of fundamental natural dignity and confidence as one simply sits there, alert and relaxed. Then this glimpse seems to be almost immediately clouded over by more upheavals. Sometimes a glimpse of basic goodness may lead only to further despair, annoyance, or frustration at not being able to hold onto it or to relax into it and remain there. In order to help the student continue, traditionally, general types of obstacles or disruptive forces are pointed out with corresponding antidotes with which he or she might overcome these obstacles and continue.6 The obstacles fundamentally have to do with the seeming heaviness and numbness of the body and mind and the tendency of discursive mind to try to avoid the insight of wakefulness, to want to cling to and perpetuate safe and comfortable habitual patterns of thought. Thus some obstacles have to do with laziness, forgetfulness, and general drowsiness and depression. Other obstacles have to do with wildness, with craziness of discursive chatter and imagination, with carelessness and general hypersensitivity, so that one is knocked off balance of mindfulness by the smallest thought. We might decide that to train our mind and discover our basic nature is an excellent idea, but we find when we actually begin to do them that we are beginning to take a look at our most personal, intimate experience, which we may wish to avoid.
Thus habitual patterns of body and mind begin to object to the intention to meditate and throw up obstacles. The way to work with these obstacles, the antidotes to them, begins with a general sense of trust in the efficacy of the practice and in the insight and dedication of millions of practitioners who have already accomplished the training. Beyond this there is the recognition of the need for effort in the training and for the development of a sense of familiarity with the training. If you wish to train yourself physically, by jogging or working out, you know that for the first few months it may be a difficult grind. Later you find, to your surprise, that you are already beginning to become fit and in condition. At this point you realize that you are already addicted to the workout. It has become so familiar to you that you cannot let more than a few days pass without working out. It is precisely the same with mindfulness training. The discovery that the training is working, and the sense of familiarity with, and almost addiction to the training, can be recognized as antidotes to the laziness and depression that frequently come along. Finally a general, environmental sense of watchfulness can be an antidote to the wildness and carelessness of discursive mind, so that the mind's tendency to wander off can itself be a reminder to return to mindfulness.
Mindfulness practice, then, is the process of developing basic familiarity with the entire thought and perceptual process and a sense of friendliness to it. Mind is no longer felt as a hostile, strange thing, often distracted, in which lurk unknown terrors. We begin to tame and pacify the wild, restless energy of mind so that mind naturally begins to settle. The idea of "developing peace" is not a stopping of thoughts, but a discovery of the underlying peacefulness and breadth in which perception and thoughts arise, abide, and dissolve.
Traditionally, this gradual discovery of and resting in the fundamental peacefulness of mind is described in nine major stages, known as the nine ways of resting mind.7 These stages range all the way from just beginning to draw in the wildness and uncontrolled thought process and prolonging that state a little; to being able to ride the thought process with mindfulness and without being swept off balance; to thoroughly resting the mind in peacefulness, as naturally as swans swim and birds fly. As one continues with mindfulness practice one develops a familiarity with one's thoughts and emotions. The doubts and fears, depression and wildness are less threatening. One begins to relax and feel fundamentally friendly toward oneself just as one is, without pretense. Thus one begins to reconnect with the softness and genuine tenderness of one's heart. Habitual patterns of thought and emotion which have formed a defense, covering natural tenderness, have provided a hard front to deal with the apparent harshness and difficulties of the world. But the rediscovery of tenderness begins to open one to the world and to the possibilities of clear perception and genuine communication.
In an analogy, the mind could be, at first, like a wild horse galloping in the meadows, running hither and thither, turbulent, energetic, and unrideable. If we were to try to ride the horse of mind, it would throw us off or carry us away. First, we must tame it: we give it a very large pasture, and place the halter of technique around it with a very long rope. Gently we pull on the rope, just to hint that someone is there who would like to train it. We do not try to force ourselves into mindfulness; we simply give mind space. When the horse is close enough, we make a gesture of friendship, place a saddle on it, and mount. We can now guide the horse to manifest the dignity and elegance of dressage or to explore difficult mountain passes. Now that mind has settled a little and we have made friends with it, rather than try to hold onto the sense of calm, we can acknowledge the openness and liveliness that comes in. This is the vipashyana attitude.
The awareness, or vipashyana, aspect of practice brings with it a sense of inquisitiveness, curiosity, liveliness, and insight. A traditional analogy is that while the peacefulness of shamatha is like a lake without waves or undercurrents, it might become stagnant if nothing grows in it. Vipashyana is like the lilies growing out of the lake and swans swimming on the lake.
Vipashyana develops as we begin to clearly discriminate the various perceptions, feelings, emotions, and thoughts that continually follow one another and intermingle in our lives. Once we have the clarity and brightness of awareness to begin to discriminate these, then a natural inquisitiveness is discovered, a natural interest in how they arise and enter into our experience. Because of this natural interest, and the steadiness of mindfulness that has developed, awareness is not disturbed by the large upheavals of emotions and moods that might still tend to take place and that are constantly coloring the state of mind. This is an important point in the development of awareness because it is precisely these emotional colorations that normally distract awareness and prevent us from recognizing the conceptualization we are projecting onto our experience. Out of this steadiness of not reacting to the large-scale ups and downs, together with precision of mindfulness, awareness of the minute details of the thought and perceptual process begins to develop. One begins to notice the smallest details of perception and thought, the relationship between them and the mood or mental atmosphere around each thought. One might also begin to notice the disjointedness or discontinuity of perceptions and the fleeting gaps between them.
In sitting practice and in its application in everyday life, the shamatha and vipashyana aspects are always present together. It is not a question of having to go all the way to complete shamatha, completely taming the mind, before any glimpse of vipashyana can come. Nevertheless, we usually find when we begin to sit that our experience of our minds is at first rather wild. Our minds wander between elation and depression, between uptightness and looseness, very rarely synchronized with body, which is just sitting there. Therefore, on the whole, shamatha practice is emphasized and vipashyana is allowed to develop naturally.
There are said to be six discoveries associated with developing vipashyana. These discoveries refer to the insight of direct perception, immediate experience. They refer, of course, not merely to new information about things, but to personal understanding. The first, the "discovery of meaning" is the discovery of how language works. The practitioner begins to discriminate the accurate use of words and logic, so as not to be confused by them but to get directly to the meaning conveyed by them. He sees the relationship of language to what is beyond language and is not confused by his own habitual thought patterns or those of others. He begins to be able to perceive what is going on beyond the verbalizations.
The second, "discovery of reality," refers to beginning to distinguish between "inside" and "outside." The practitioner distinguishes between personal opinion, emotions, or life situations generally and the larger world around him, from the weather to the state of international politics. He or she begins to distinguish what is a product of his or her own "inner" world and what is not. He also begins to see the importance of going out to others and of connecting with the goodness and wholesomeness of the world.
The third, the "discovery of nature," is beginning to see how thoughts rapidly follow the bare perception of what is, a color, a sound, and so on. The practitioner discovers how, from a first glimpse, thought of action or reactions follows. "Nature" here refers to the nature of the perceptual process, and also to the intrinsic characteristics or marks of perceptions which distinguish one from another.
The fourth discovery, "discovery of sides," is beginning to discriminate situations and actions that further mindfulness and awareness from those that do not. "Sides" here, then, refers to the rather commonsense meaning of "good" and "bad." This discovery is realizing what is helpful to oneself and others and what is not, almost at the level of ordinary decency and good manners. It is also being able to recognize when there is awareness and when there is not.
The fifth, "discovery of time," is becoming less confused by past memories and future hopes. The practitioner is able to discriminate past and future as they enter into the present moment so as not to be caught in the complicated pattern of hope and fear by which we spin our web of habitual patterns that color our perception. He knows, then, what he is actually experiencing now.
The sixth, "discovery of insight," is realizing and trusting in the causal efficacy and interconnectedness of the world. It is direct, penetrating insight into causal relationships of the relative world so that one begins to see how much is presupposed and taken for granted in our usual experience of the ordinary world. With this discovery the practitioner need not cling either to particular reference points for perception, or to logic in an attempt to sustain only his own viewpoint. He can begin to adopt various viewpoints without partiality. This discovery is the forerunner of rigpa, the intrinsic, nondualistic perception of unconditioned nature.
There is a great deal more detail concerning the journey of discovery of shamatha/vipashyana as it has been mapped out by generations of practitioners. I have tried to give the reader some flavor of the journey, enough to show that this practice is not some vague subjective introspection, but is a detailed method of training and evaluation which is inter-subjectively accessible.
It is important to emphasize that mindfulness-awareness practice is just that — practice. Practice is simply an opportunity to discover one's basic nature and to develop the gentleness and fearlessness arising from it, on which one's action in the world is based.
We have presented the principles of mindfulness and awareness in relation to sitting practice, in which physical activity is simplified to a minimum. In order to be active in the world we have to stand up, walk, and perform physical gestures and speak. There are other disciplines which form a very valuable link between sitting practice and ordinary action in everyday life. These disciplines, which come mainly from the Japanese traditions, might include ikebana (flower arranging), kyudo (archery), chanoyu (tea ceremony), calligraphy, various martial arts (such as t'ai chi chuan), as well as the Western descipline of dressage (horsemanship). Because they are themselves disciplines that have for centuries been ways to train the mind, they already embody the principles of mindfulness and awareness. Therefore, by practicing them in conjunction with basic sitting practice, we can begin to see how mindfulness and awareness can be carried on in physical activity, and we can then continue this attitude in our everyday life.
To bring out the natural living quality of harmony and elegance which comes from joining mind and body in mindfulness-awareness practice is the essence of the discipline of ikebana. Ikebana is a centuries-old discipline of arranging flowers which is at the same time both an expression of natural elegance and beauty, and a practice, a path (Japanese do), of training the mind-heart. In the more traditional arrangements there are three main branches representing heaven, earth, and man, and flowers representing the universal monarch. Writing of the traditional attitude to ikebana and its role in Japanese life, Gustie Herrigel says: "Now is such a flower-piece a product of nature or of art? Or does it stand midway between the two, so that it is more than nature and not yet pure art? An unequivocal answer is extraordinarily difficult to give. For the Japanese, life and art, nature and spirit form an indissoluble unity, an unbroken whole. He experiences nature as having a soul, and spirit as part of nature, without purpose. So he cannot make sense of a question which presupposes a division of nature from spirit, life from art, as though
they were alien to each other. For him nature is neither dead nor unspiritual, nor yet a mere symbol and semblance. The Eternal itself is immediately present in its living beauty. This viewpoint is typical of all Japanese art. Consequently, we fail to touch its real essence if we believe that it 'idealizes' its objects and aims at easing tensions and reconciling opposites in order to create harmony. For the Japanese, harmony is the innermost form underlying nature, life and the world, and art can have no other task than to portray this harmony, to confirm it through varying degrees of 'unconscious awareness.' The artist will draw it into himself as if with a deep breath from an infinite distance, exalt it, and body it forth. With his senses wide open, he perceives the new creation and carries it out of its background into visible form. Since he gives up all thought of placing himself in the foreground, he will, simultaneously with the tangible presence of the flower — in which the cosmos manifests itself — also become aware of the law of its being, and of his own nature."8
By following basic rules and arranging flowers and branches with attention to detail, the student trains his or her perceptions. The completed arrangement is not considered to be just an attractive decoration. It is a reflection of the student's state of mind, of how tight or relaxed, how scattered or attentive, how embarrassed or confident, how confused or balanced, he or she felt as each particular flower was placed. To take part in an ikebana class is almost magical. The beginning students make their arrangements, perhaps attempting to emulate an arrangement of the teacher. There is often an awkwardness in the arrangements. Perhaps they seem slightly cramped or overfull. Yet at the same time there may be a touch of delight, a hint of openness. A master teacher may then look at a student's arrangement, and with only a small change-a slight pruning here, a small turn of a branch there — suddenly the arrangement seems to come to life. What was, in the student's arrangement, simply a hint becomes a glowing manifestation of harmony and life. By practicing again and again to bring that quality of harmony and delight into his arrangement, a student begins to experience it in his own state of mind as well. Chogyam Trungpa, in speaking to the Kalapa Ikebana school, of which he is founder, had this to say: "This evening we are discussing perception and the appreciation of reality. Generally, we believe that it requires talent to create a work of art. People sometimes reject themselves because they feel they don't have such talent. Their art might be sewing, cooking, painting, interior decorating, photography, or anything that involves aesthetics. Of course, flower arranging is included. However, in this discussion, one's artistic talent is not the point. Anyone who possesses the appreciation of sight, smell, sound, and feelings is capable of communicating with the rest of the world. One's perception of the world, as well as a general sense of space, can be expressed in art. From this point of view, we could say that ikebana is a way to enter the general social world of our sense perceptions, and it is a way to handle our entire lives as an artistic discipline. Ikebana allows us to develop discipline and it shows how much general appreciation we have developed, and how much we have learned a sense of being in the world harmoniously. Ikebana discipline is not just arranging pretty flowers, making them into a beautiful arrangement. More fundamentally, it is a reflection of oneself."9
In everyday life one could also realize every action as complete, like placing a flower or a single breath. When you say hello, shake hands, lift a glass of wine, start your car, put the kettle on, each action has its beginning, middle, and end, each is complete. When you paint, there is first the empty canvas, then the first brush stroke, then the completion of the painting. When you write a letter, there is an empty piece of paper. Then you write, "Dear Friend," then you write your letter, and finally, "Yours sincerely," and it is finished. Such appreciation of the present moment is known as "nowness" — the realization that, at each moment, this very moment is the only occasion of your life, uncorrupted by past or future.
According to the teaching of Shambhala, this is the basis of how to live life in accord with unconditioned nature. Every thought, every word, every gesture could be complete, and take its natural place, appropriate, harmonious, and elegant. This possibility is based on the principles of shamatha and vipashyana. The heart of the practice is synchronizing or joining mind and body. Or, to say the same thing, it is joining awareness and perception.
The process of joining mind and body is a process of continually letting go. At each step of the journey, each stage of mindfulness awareness practice, we discover the central conception of "I," the fear and aggression which come from holding on to it, and all the other conceptions, personal views, and opinions which surround it. Thus at each stage we let go of this conjecture and its surrounding conceptual structures in order to see clearly beyond it. Out of this a natural ethic begins to develop, of recognizing the unconditioned goodness of others as well as oneself and of letting go of one's personal discovery of goodness in order to promote the fundamental welfare of others as well as oneself.
Synchronizing mind and body in nowness is seeing the world directly, beyond language. As Trungpa says: "Sometimes when we perceive the world, we perceive without language. We perceive spontaneously with a pre-language system. But sometimes when we perceive the world we think a word first, and then we perceive. In other words, the first instance is directly feeling or perceiving the universe, the second instance is talking ourselves into seeing our universe. So either you see the world through the filter of your thoughts, by talking to yourself, or you look and see beyond language - as first perception. . .When you feel that you can afford to relax and perceive the world directly, then your vision can expand. You can see on the spot with wakefulness. Your eyes begin to open, wider and wider, and you see that the world is colorful and fresh and so precise; every sharp angle is fantastic."10
Perceiving Ordinary Magic