Training in mindfulness is not just watching our mind, but actively improving our mind by keeping it focused on a positive object, focused ‘in the now’. This practice involves three main mental factors: mindfulness, alertness and conscientiousness.
Mindfulness means paying attention as an observer to our pattern of thought, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally. To achieve this we practice focusing techniques such as keeping the mind on an object that has not been forgotten and bringing the mind back to an object that has been forgotten.
We can understand what mindfulness is by considering its object, nature and function:
- Object: Mindfulness focuses on an object with which the mind has previously become acquainted
- Nature: The nature of mindfulness is not to forget the object but to hold onto it
- Function: The function of mindfulness is to prevent the mind from being distracted – from wandering away from the object it is holding
When we place our mind on an object with mindfulness, we can carry out alertness checks occasionally to see if our meditation is progressing well or if interruptions and obstacles have arisen. This spy-like function of the mind is alertness. If it discovers that the mind has become distracted or has fallen under the influence of mental sinking or excitement we can grasp onto the object once again with mindfulness and continue our meditation.
Alertness is the fruit of mindfulness and has a very close connection with it. While mindfulness holds onto its object, alertness observes if there is any wandering from that object or not.
Conscientiousness is a mental factor that cherishes what is virtuous and guards the mind against delusion and non-virtue.
There is no practice more important than keeping our mind free from negativity. Normally we take great care to protect our body from injury, but it is much more important to protect the mind.
Conscientiousness should be practised in conjunction with mindfulness and alertness. With mindfulness we tie our mind to a virtuous object. A virtuous object is any object that has a positive effect on our mind. We should try to keep our mind on virtuous objects all the time. If through alertness we discover that a delusion is about to arise we should immediately prevent it by recalling the faults of delusions. This is the practice of conscientiousness.
The above takes guidance and regular practice and the results though, can be life-changing.