Being aware of objects of consciousness

Walking meditation - walking on a pierThe fourth foundation of mindfulness that we bring attention to in walking meditation is dharmas, or objects of consciousness.

Here, we are aware not just of the general state of our emotions and of our minds, but of the specific contents of our emotions and of our thoughts, and are able to categorize our emotions and thoughts in various ways. At the very least, we can be aware of whether our thoughts and emotions are those that we want to encourage or to discourage.

Once you’ve read more of this site, you’ll be able to categorize your emotions and thoughts in terms of the five hindrances and the five meditation factors (these are ways of classifying our negative and positive states of mind, and will be discussed in other sections of Wildmind).

Why is this ability to categorize your emotional and mental states important? The more that you are able to do this, the more ability you will have to choose to alter your experience.

An analogy would be weeding a garden. You need to make decisions about which plants you wish to encourage in your garden, and which you want to eliminate. Being aware of objects of consciousness is thus rather like knowing which plants are weeds, and which plants are those that you want to cultivate. This kind of knowledge comes with study, reflection, and experience.

An example might be useful. Imagine that someone comes up to you while you are working, and points out that your shoulders are tense. You realize that they’re right, and that you hadn’t been aware that your shoulders were up round your ears. In fact, you now realize that your neck and other parts of your body are tense too. So you relax your shoulders and neck, and you feel more at ease. You can now continue your work without developing sore shoulders and a headache.

It was being able to recognize tension as tension, and knowing that the tension that was something you didn’t want that allowed you to make the change. Also implicit in this example is that you could recognize the absence of the positive state of relaxation, and knew what to do to bring it about (i.e. let go of the tension in your shoulders). The more we meditate, the more we become aware that some mental/emotional states are undesirable, and that there are some mental states that we want to experience more often because they lead to greater fulfillment.

Of course there’s considerably more to working with the mind than simply recognizing tension! Buddhism offers a systematic and thorough “map” of the mind and offers many techniques for reducing the hold undesired mental/emotional states and for cultivating desired mental/emotional states. But we start just by noticing.

So, in this walking meditation, we start with the experience of our bodies, and then become aware of our feelings, and then our emotions, and then objects of consciousness.

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