Cultivating mindfulness is the key to overcoming suffering and recognizing natural wisdom: both our own and others'. How do we go about it?

In the Buddhist tradition and in Contemplative Psychotherapy training, we nurture mindfulness through the practice of sitting meditation. There are many different kinds of meditation. For example, some are designed to help us relax; others are meant to produce altered states of consciousness.

Mindfulness meditation is unique in that it is not directed toward getting us to be different from how we already are. Instead, it helps us become aware of what is already true moment by moment. We could say that it teaches us how to be unconditionally present; that is, it helps us be present with whatever is happening, no matter what it is.

Mindfulness, paying precise, nonjudgmental attention to the details of our experience as it arises and subsides, doesn't reject anything. Instead of struggling to get away from experiences we find difficult, we practice being able to be with them. Equally, we bring mindfulness to pleasant experiences as well. Perhaps surprisingly, many times we have a hard time staying simply present with happiness. We turn it into something more familiar, like worrying that it won't last or trying to keep it from fading away.

When we are mindful, we show up for our lives; we don't miss them in being distracted or in wishing for things to be different. Instead, if something needs to be changed we are present enough to understand what needs to be done. Being mindful is not a substitute for actually participating in our lives and taking care of our own and others' needs. In fact, the more mindful we are, the more skillful we can be in compassionate action.

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The Noble Eightfold Path

The 'Middle Way', avoiding the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification, is the path which the Buddha taught in the Fourth Noble Truths that leads to the complete cessation of suffering (dukkha) and release from the cycle of existence (samsara). This is the realisation of Nibbana, the ultimate goal of a Buddhist.

The path comprises eight categories or factors which aim at developing and perfecting the three essentials of Buddhist training and discipline: Virtue (Sila), Concentration (samadhi) and Wisdom (panna).

Virtue or Ethical conduct comprises Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, and Right Effort.

Concentration is the development of Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration through meditation.

Wisdom comprises Right Understanding and Right Thought.

What the Buddha meant by 'Right' is that which produces a beneficial result.
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The mind is very wild. The human experience is full of unpredictability and paradox, joys and sorrows, successes and failures. We can’t escape any of these experiences in the vast terrain of our existence. It is part of what makes life grand—and it is also why our minds take us on such a crazy ride. If we can train ourselves through meditation to be more open and more accepting toward the wild arc of our experience, if we can lean into the difficulties of life and ride of our minds, we can become more settled and relaxed amid whatever life brings us.
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