Everyone talks about mindfulness these days. Now that it has gone mainstream it means different things to different people. My spiritual teacher Venerable Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, said mindfulness is when our minds are fully present. Most of the time we are preoccupied with our own thoughts and not 100% present. We tend to worry. She compared our minds to a pendulum swinging back and forth between the past, which we cannot change, and the future, which hasn’t happened. “Meditation practice”, she says, “helps us anchor in the present by coming back to our breath, and coming to this point in time when there is nothing to worry about.”
How do we practice mindfulness in our daily interactions with others? Venerable Dhammananda says this involves coming back to the now, letting go of I, me, my and looking at our shared connection. How often do we find ourselves engaged in conversation with others but not really listening? Pure listening, she said, is when we “empty” ourselves, and truly hear what the person is saying. She freely admits this is easier said than done. Often when she is with her own adult children, she finds herself growing impatient, reacting rather than listening to what they are saying. “When we are being mindful,” she said, “we give our full attention. Watch their facial expressions carefully, she says, are they upset, confused? Look at their eyebrows are they puzzled, not understanding—all that.”
Asked to summarize Buddhist practice in one sentence, Venerable Dhammananda said, “The Heart.” It has to come back to the heart. Metta, the compassion. Your behavior needs to be focused on loving kindness so that we are open to experiencing another person’s suffering.