In answering the question if mindfulness practice can lead to an embodied wisdom, it is best to start with the foundation of why we practice meditation. Primarily we meditate to cultivate mindfulness which is conducive to us being more aware of what we experience.
3 dimensions of mindfulness
Purser and Milillo (2014) have put forth the argument that mindfulness might have 3 dimensions to it:
- Mindfulness is a kind of remembrance, not forgetfulness or keeping in mind, akin to what is called bare attention. This is the “concentration” part of mindfulness or the aspect which could be employed in daily life to increase productivity by reducing distraction and remaining present with what you are doing. Does this increase knowledge or more deeply embodied wisdom? One could argue both ways. Still, this would fall short of what meditation and the cultivation of mindfulness lead to.
- The mindfulness that observes or “clear seeing”. This signifies the aspect within mindfulness that can see or remember both our skilful and unskilful actions. Such mindfulness is not that concentrative bare attention commonly referred to as “a passive and non-judgmental attentiveness to the present moment exclusively”. However, an active, discerning engaged awareness that, if adequately cultivated, can lead to the recognition and remembrance of what we could call our “unwholesome actions” and “wholesome actions”. This mindfulness can lead us into a purposeful engagement of trying to abandon our unwholesome actions and engage more in cultivating wholesome ones.
- The third dimension of mindfulness is when mindfulness, as “clear seeing”, is endowed with an open alertness. Analayo (2019) argues how this open alertness brings with it the uncanny ability to plunge into the objects, situations or conditions we are experiencing and how they effect us. Or what we could call a kind of “clear comprehension”, which has a reflexive introspective quality within it.
Meditation a process.
Then, the practice of meditation is more of a process, from the basics of the practice or the cultivation of mindfulness related to a sustained attention on an object held in open awareness. On the other end, a mindfulness were, one skillfully employs that sustained attention coupled with an open alertness towards viewing one’s stream of consciousness. This is what can lead to the arising of insight. Although it has to be pointed out that between the continuum from mindfulness to insight lies the practice of loving-kindness and, more importantly, the practice of compassion for self and others.
It has to be said that within the practice of meditation as a process on a continuum, compassion has a leading role (Gilbert & Choden, 2014; Rinpoche & Swanson, 2012; Rinpoche & Swanson, 2007), and compassion is the key to the arising of a deep-seated embodied wisdom.
Compassion and embodied wisdom
Why? Because mindfulness stabilises the mind, whereafter we can engage in a meditation that is geared towards the cultivation of compassion through what has been called the four immeasurable or:
- Loving Kindness – the wish for all beings (together with ourselves) to experience happiness and the causes of happiness.
- Compassion – the wish for all beings (together with ourselves) to be free of suffering and the causes of suffering.
- Sympathetic Joy – rejoicing in the well-being and happiness of others and appreciating it.
- Equanimity – abiding in an impartial state of mind in which we do not grasp after what we like, reject what we do not like and become indifferent to what does not interest us.
These “immeasurable” are what lead us into a meditative practice that cultivates insight into the causes and conditions of suffering and how they effect ourselves and others. Although it is the immeasurable of compassion is what motivates us and gives us an innate embodied wisdom into addressing and reliving the causes and conditions of suffering (Gilbert & Choden, 2014).
So, from my experience, I would say that meditation practice can lead to an embodied wisdom into the essence of life itself. A wisdom that sees the true nature of suffering and what can cause it and a compassionate motive to use such wisdom:
- To extend kindness and understanding to oneself and others rather than harsh judgment and criticism.
- To see our common humanity and our experiences as part of the larger human experience rather than seeing them as separate and isolating,
- And a sensitivity to the suffering of self and others with a propensity and deep commitment to try to prevent and relieve it.
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Analayo, B. (2019). How mindfulness came to plunge into objects. Mindfulness, 10(6), 1181-1185. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-019-01152-4
Gilbert, P., & Choden. (2014). Mindful compassion. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
Neff, K. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualisation of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2(2), 85-101. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/15298860309032
Purser, R. E., & Milillo, J. (2014). Mindfulness revisited: A Buddhist-based conceptualisation. Journal of Management Inquiry, 24(1), 3-24. doi: 10.1177/1056492614532315
Rinpoche, T., & Swanson, E. (2012). Open heart, open mind: A guide to inner transformation. New York, NY: Random House USA Inc.
Rinpoche, Y. M., & Swanson, E. (2007). The joy of living: Unlocking the secret and science of happiness. New York, NY: Random House Inc.