Elemental Mindfulness

I only use “mindfulness” in titles because that’s the word everyone knows. In actual speech and writing, I say sati because that’s what it’s originally called. Plus, since it’s a Pali word, it isn’t as loaded with bad habits as “mindfulness” is.

I like using the ROAR acronym to describe sati. Relax, observe, analyze, recognize. I like the ROAR model because it’s inspired by sati’s Buddhist roots—the teachings are often called the Lion’s Roar.

  • Relax. Relax means, obviously, relaxing our bodies and minds. For the body, we’re scanning to see if there’s any physical tension. If there is, we, well, relax. For the mind, we’re keeping an equanimous attitude of letting things come and go without judging them or labeling them. Judgments and labels are just our minds, not the things we’re judging or labeling.
  • Observe. We’re here and now just watching whatever appears. If we wander into memories or expectations, we can notice that and gently bring attention back to just this.
  • Analyze. Sati isn’t just about relaxing and paying attention, it’s not a passive method. We’re also analyzing whatever appears. Examining it and investigating it to see what it is, its True Nature.
  • Remember. We can’t just analyze, that’d send us down an overthinking rabbit hole. When we’re analyzing something, we’re looking for the teachings in action, we’re looking to see if what we’re analyzing is permanent or impermanent, independent or dependently arisen, mind-made or objective, and if our reactions to it are appropriate—in which case they’ll minimize suffering—or inappropriate, in which case they’ll cause or perpetuate suffering.

We can use ROAR in a lot of different ways. One of those is to concentrate observation to focus on the elements of experience: solidity, liquidity, motion, energy, and space or stillness.

If we look at something around us, we can see through our perception of it as a thing-unto-itself by asking, “What is this?” and then answering with the elements that compose it.

A glass of water is a solid, a liquid, and space. The glass doesn’t own solidity. The floor is solid, the walls, this phone, tablet, or computer. The water doesn’t own liquidity. Lava is a liquid, and even metals an become liquids at certain temperatures. The cup also doesn’t own the water, since we poured it into the cup and then we’re gonna pour it into our bodies. And the cup doesn’t own the space, there’s space everywhere.

So, the cup is empty. It’s impermanent and dependently arisen. Even when it’s full it’s empty. It’s empty of owning itself, and it’s empty of owning the things that compose it. We could say this means there is no cup, or we could say that this means the cup is only a perception (as is no-cup).

A solid is a solid, a liquid is a liquid, and space is space. These things are present everywhere in an infinite variety of forms. We’re them too. As those states of matter change, things change, and things can also change those states as well.

There’s no such thing as death in Buddhism, only transformations in the mind. There’s no death because when the cup breaks, solidity doesn’t break. When it was made, solidity wasn’t made. The same goes for the water and space.

The point is to apply elemental sati equally to our surroundings and ourselves, leaving nothing out. After we do that, we can ask, “What’s left out?”

Just as the mind is the interaction between sense organ, sense object, and consciousness, the body is the interaction of state of matter. Traditionally, after cultivating concentration by focusing on the breath or some other object, we’d move to using sati to see the True Nature of the body. In Zen, the surroundings are included as well.

Some people skip the body and head to straight to the mind. If that works, then more power to you. But if that doesn’t work for you, you can always start with the body or any form.

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