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Sunday
Sep012002

Reader's Exchange

“Mommy, wake up so you'll have time to play with me before you go to work.” Half-asleep, I recognized this as the first time I'd heard my daughter use time in a linear fashion. She had kept me living more or less in the present for almost four years. I felt guilty for all the times I'd rushed her as she contemplated a puddle (“Hurry or we won't get there on time!”) or talked to a “family” of raisins (“Finish your breakfast quickly or we'll be late!”)

When she was born time stopped. The pediatrician spoke of the next visit. I stared blankly. Tiny new baby in my arms, a month was an unfathomable distance.

My daughter helps me to live as a “child of illusion.” Socks on rocking horse runners or a four-year-old body jammed into a six-month-old's outfit bring me back with a smile. Giving up hope of finishing anything without interruption is oddly relaxing. The moment is more fun than the to-do list, even when the moment is finding her gluing beads to furniture.

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Sunday
Sep012002

Dharma Dictionary: Satipatthana

Defined by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Satipatthana (Pali) is often translated as “foundation of mindfulness,” which gives the impression that it refers to an object of meditation. This impression is reinforced when you see the four satipatthanas listed as body, feelings, mind and mental qualities.

But if you look at the early Buddhist texts, you find that satipatthana is a process, a way of establishing (upatthana) mindfulness (sati); hence the compound term. When the texts define the compound they give not a list of objects but four formulas describing an activity. Here's the first formula:

A meditator remains focused on the body in and of itself—ardent, alert, and mindful—putting aside greed and distress with reference to the world.

Each of the terms in this formula is important. Remaining focused can also be translated as “keeping track.” This refers to the element of concentration in the practice, as you hold to one particular theme or frame of reference amid the conflicting currents of experience. Ardent refers to the effort you put into the practice, trying to abandon unskillful states of mind and develop skillful ones in their stead, all the while trying to discern the difference between the two. Alert means being clearly aware of what's happening in the present. Mindful means being able to remember or recollect.

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