The Four Foundations of Mindfulness

by Elmo Shade

  1. CONTACT- Breath, Body, Sounds, 5 Senses

The formal training of mindfulness takes place on the meditation cushion by re-directing the wandering attention. Breath and body awareness is the best place to start. By re-directing attention from the thinking mind to the breath or the felt sense of the body, we begin to condition our attention to be in the present moment.

ex: smelling the sweet aroma of chocolate in an ice cream shop

 

  1. FEELING TONES- Pleasant, Unpleasant, Neutral

Every single experience or event has a feeling tone to it, i.e. a categorization of “I like it” (pleasant); “I don’t like it” (unpleasant); “I am undecided or neutral about it” (neutral). By paying attention to the experience and its feeling tone, we can begin to examine our inner relationship to it, e.g. clinging to what is pleasant or pushing away and resisting what is unpleasant.

ex: I love the smell of chocolate 

 

  1. PERCEPTION- Mental Filters, Assumptions, Stories

Between stimulus and response, there is an approximate gap of .25 seconds. It is in this gap that we filter an event based upon past experiences. Our MAPS or “My Assumptions, Perceptions and Stories” become our reality and our reality is most often not in concert with what is factual or true. Perception then is NOT reality; it is only the ego misrepresenting the past in the present moment.

ex: chocolate reminds me of wonderful family experiences 

 

  1. CONSCIOUSNESS- Intention to act, e.g. reacting v responding

If we are not paying attention, our inclination will be to “do something”, i.e. to react with attachment (cling to it) or aversion (get rid of it) which lead to unhealthy and unproductive mental states like anger, blame, judgment/becoming. Paying attention to the truth of the present-time experience allows us to respond with curiosity and compassion instead of being stuck in a reactive pattern, e.g. indulging.

ex: I can’t believe I ate the whole thing. I feel sick and emotionally drained