In mindfulness we rest in the wider experience of the moment. Establishing mindfulness; acquiring the positive habit of allowing attention to move to the senses, the form, the energies and feelings we experience, all the while aware of these rather than identified with them, is incredibly beneficial.
What we discover is that obsessive and repetitive thoughts diminish, feelings are opened up, and allowing these to be seen helps them to shift and release either right away or over time. This creates the space into which an open sense of wellbeing naturally arises.
Whether we see it as a process, practice or path, or reject any labels for it, mindfulness leads us on to inquire about the nature of this human experience as it arises in the moment. This is not a verbal, mental inquiry, but a sense of looking closer, being with, being in the centre of the feelings and experiences that arise, again without identification as these.
And it’s this last point that starts to reveal to us what takes place when we are mindful or present. The spacious awareness in which thoughts, feeling and sensations arise has none of the attributes of that which arises. The knowing of these things is not itself a thing, not subject to arising and ceasing. Aware presence isn’t hot or cold, happy or sad, contracted or expanded, desiring or hating. It’s unaffected by these.
Awareness can’t be damaged or altered by these any more than a television screen can be affected by the image upon it. It might be a sad film or a comedy, a documentary or a horror story, but the screen is just the screen. It doesn’t matter how much violence it depicts it can’t be broken by it.
When we’re mindfully present we’re seeing what arises in awareness, as awareness. Even if we’re not really conscious of doing this, because we’re not identifying with that which arises, whatever it is, we’re not creating ourselves in this moment. As there’s no identification, there’s no attachment, and as there’s no attachment, that which arises ceases and is let go of much more quickly, than if we create a story around it in which it’s happening to a ‘me’.
So in mindfulness, whether it’s looking at what arises in this moment or the deeper background tone or mind state that is present which may be conditioned by older stuff, these things are seen and released more easily because we’re not believing them, they aren’t our story, our belongings any more, they’re just this story, this thing, this mood, this feeling. Without the presence of attachment to them they are let go of.
So when we hear that most frustrating of pointers, ‘Just let go’ what it’s encouraging us to do is be mindfully present with what’s here, with what’s arising, and as we do this, resting as mindful awareness there is no identification and therefore no attachment to cling onto whatever that thing is. Letting go happens as a natural result of not identifying.
So where does this lead? Well on the one hand it’s very beneficial to be able to let go and release old feelings and stories, and to cope with events in the moment but that’s not really the end game. As we continue to do this, resting as awareness in the moment, without identifying as that which arises, whatever it is, at some point the realisation takes place that all of this is simply arising and ceasing in this way; everything changes, nothing is fixed or separate.
In seeing this clearly it is seen in the moment that there is no separate self doing, experiencing or controlling this. And following this path (, practice, process) we gradually move away from identification as something experiencing this, towards experiencing happening with no owner, no doer, arising as part of the ever-unfolding present.
Realising awareness is not a thing, not confined to this or that form, and realising this is the true nature of being, is the experience of nonduality that in Buddhism is called the deathless. It’s the switching around of this human experience from considering awareness as being part of this thing called ‘me’ to seeing awareness arising as this.
So nibbana could be said to be a realisation in the moment of that which arises without any identification or attachment.