I don’t know about you, but I feel like I can use all the tips and reminders I can get to grow a wise and awakened heart in a life that some times makes me want lose it! Therefore, I decided to explore the Buddha’s well-known teaching, “Seven Factors of Enlightenment,” and see how this ancient teaching can support the growth of a wise heart, especially in those times when you feel like losing it like a two year old!
1.Mindfulness is the first factor in growing a wise and awakened heart. Mindfulness is the practice of intentionally paying attention and bringing awareness to what is arising within the mind-body-heart, moment to moment, in an open, kind and receptive way. Think about it, how can we become wiser if we are not actually paying attention or aware to what is going on inside our own framework?
Try it! As you are reading this, take a few moments right now to become aware of what is happening within your own internal framework. Start by tuning into your breath, then noticing how your body feels sitting here, moving on to observe any moods or emotional states that may be present. Seeing if you can notice whatever is here in an open, kind and receptive way.
2. Investigation is the second factor in growing a wise and awakened heart and can only be practice once mindfulness (this quality of attention and awareness) is established. In this stage, the mindfulness practice is taken one step farther by bringing a sense of curiosity and an investigative nature to what is being found within the mind-body-heart at any given moment, by questioning what is there.
Try it! The next time you notice you have become triggered by a strong emotion, like irritation when you yet again chose the longer line-up at the grocery store, and are in a rush to get to a yoga class! Ugh! Instead transferring that irritation to the innocent worker at the checkout counter or to the person in front of you who is god forbid getting a price check, see if you can bring an investigative nature to what is arising.
Start by tuning into your body, noticing how irritation maybe manifesting itself there, and while feeling it the body perhaps ask yourself “What is this…and (as one of my teacher's Michael Stone would ask) and is this permanent?” bringing this sense of curiosity to what is found without looking for an answer or reacting to the story line to why this feeling may be there. With keeping mindful attention and investigation into what has arisen for, you may be surprised at what you find, perhaps the decrease in the intensity of the feeling of irritation, and the welling up of compassion for the person who you know feels guilty for needing a price check when the line-up is so long, or the cashier who can feel the irritation from others who are not practicing mindfulness in the line.
3. Energy and Enthusiasm, also known as Tapas in the yoga world, is the third factor in growing a wise and awakened heart. Just think of all the times you have quit something that you know is good for you out of feelings of discouragement, boredom, tiredness or just plain laziness, to only end up feeling worse about not following through with it. Since, self-judgement and criticalness is the opposite of mindfulness, energy and enthusiasm is a crucial element in the practice and will support you to keep your mindfulness and investigative practice sharp even when times get tough.
Try it! Next time you feel discouraged about something, like you have been paying a monthly membership towards a gym that you haven’t been to in over a year, but that you keep paying for it in hopes you will return. Try bringing a new level of energy and enthusiasm into your once desired dreams of maintaining a strong and healthy body, and instead of beating yourself and living in the past on why you haven’t gone, utilize that fire (maybe it is only dimly lit at this point, but it is lit none the less) inside you, and use it to overcome all the obstacles that stand in the way of your dream, like the calling of your warm and cozy bed, a bag of Cheetos, and a great movie on a cold rainy day :)
4. Joy is the fourth factor in growing a wise and awakened heart. Joy can be easily mistaken as positive thinking, or putting on a fake happiness mask on (I have mine up for sale if you are looking for one J) in a moment when you are actually in the throws painful feelings such as, sadness, loss, grief, etc. The joy that is talked about here is one that is not based on external events and is experienced only by honoring what is really here in this moment and meeting it in a kind, an affectionate way.
Try it! The next time you do something silly, that strips you of joy immediately, like mindlessly spilling your gross but healthy green morning smoothie all of the floor and yourself as you are rushing out the door to go teach people on how to be more mindful (and no this isn’t a personal example :), try to change your old mindless habit patterns of reactivity to the already mindless accident, by bringing a sense of curiosity to what is arising within your own internal framework (mindfulness and investigation, first and second factor).
As you clean up the mess, continue attending to the mind-body-heart moment to moment (maintaining energy and enthusiasm, third factor), while perhaps bringing a lightheartedness, humor, and in this case even a smile to what is there (joy, fourth factor). Notice how this may change your joy stripping experience into being that actually becomes infused with joy, a mindless act, turned mindful, now what could be more joyous then that :)
I will end this with a line from one of my favourite poems on meditation written by a poet, Ian McCrorie, “And with this open-eyed awareness, a smile, always a smile, without the smile, the bad guys win!” :)
Stay tuned for the last three factors of growing a wise and awakened heart, when you really feel like losing it!