Mindbodybrew is ultimately about providing a space for written reflection at every step along the yoga path. We hope that by sharing assignments from our Teacher Trainees, we can expand their deep investigation into community-wide dialogue. The following was written by Anna Hillengas in response to “The Four Foundations of Mindfulness Meditation" by Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa.
"The Four Foundations" presents a world view in which human beings face the ever-present dilemma of a survival mentality. A fear of death underlies all human existence, and as a result, man lives in a constant struggle—with nature, with circumstances, with other people—to survive. This struggle produces passion, aggression and a clinging to certain ideas, emotions and circumstances. Mindfulness practice addresses this state of being by describing tendencies and suggesting an alternative way. The alternative centers on an attentiveness to one’s own mind, and cultivating the ability to direct that mind. Chogyam Trungpa denotes four pillars of the mindfulness practice that together offer an approach which he believes to be more compassionate and attentive to oneself and the world. Participation in this approach allows one to move from confusion toward a more enlightened state.
The foundation entitled “Mindfulness of Life” particularly interests me. It addresses the survival instinct, its iterations, and suggestions for responding to it. The practice encourages the seemingly paradoxical approach that one should cultivate a deeper awareness of his mind, which will include all of the thoughts that are products of his survival instinct, and then surrender any further analysis or reinforcement of those thoughts.
At first, I thought that this technique, entitled “Touch and Go,” was unproductive and unhelpful. I have a lot of respect for the process of introspection, but I’ve always considered it a means to taking action—to solve a problem, or address a deed left undone, or process for the sake of achieving mental clarity through which to act. Yet after reflecting on the concept for a few days, I’m beginning to see “Mindfulness of Life” as a healthy response to challenging circumstances. Suppose a man unexpectedly runs into an ex-girlfriend on the subway platform. He woke up that morning content, but upon encountering this person from his past his mind floods with anxious thoughts of insecurity and bitterness. While there could be a way to process or act upon these feelings in the long-term, the healthiest action he could take in that moment would be to acknowledge those feelings and then set them aside.
I make choices about what line of work I will pursue and what relationships I have in my life, and I exert myself to pursue those choices. Simultaneously, I acknowledge that there are many aspects of living over which I have no control, such as what company will choose to hire me, or what mood my sister will be in when I call her, or what the weather will be each day. This is the process of taking action, noticing the product of that action and my response to it, and then choosing to let go of that response—be it positive or negative. This process directly relates to the asana practice in Yoga.
I’m in a Yoga class and the teacher leads us into pigeon pose. I choose to take the action of moving into pigeon because I want to respect the teacher’s choices and because I want to attain the benefits of the posture. In the process of maintaining the posture, I notice that I have difficulty doing so, and that my hip rotators and flexors are extremely tight. Anxious emotions arise in me, and thoughts of inadequacy and discontent seep into my consciousness. In accordance with the practice of “Mindfulness of Life,” I acknowledge that those thoughts are there, but I then let them go and continue to live in the posture. I choose not to indulge those anxious thoughts, nor pretend that I’m blissfully luxuriating in the posture.
Ultimately, this “Touch and Go” technique is an extremely helpful way for me to approach my yoga practice. It keeps me present in where I’m at in the moment. It is certainly a more compassionate approach than to fixate on how I’ve always been criticized for being inflexible in the past, and how I have a huge burden of overcoming inflexibility in the future. I hope to create a learning environment in the future that encourages attention and self-awareness but discourages judgment of those discoveries.