Book Notes: Mindfulness in Plain English

Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratama

[Disclaimer:  This is not meant to be a book summary or book review. This is just stuff in the book that I found personally valuable or interesting at the time of reading. Most of these “notes” are actually highlights, i.e. directly copied lines from the book, but some notes are personal adaptations or added personal insights.]


Two Primary Points:

1)  Mindfulness is conscious, non-judgmental attention on your present experience.  Mindfulness meditation is anchored by attention to the breath.  The process of breathing is to be appreciated, enjoyed and mindfully embraced.  General mindfulness helps to eliminate cravings and aversions, or at least reduce their negative impacts, which is a primary means of living in a more enlightened state.

2)  Mindfulness is cultivated by patient attention to the now – it does not try to make sense of the past or control future conditions.  Mindfulness observes and accepts the present experience without any preconceived notions.

NOTE:  Mindfulness does not mean zoning out or denying reality.  Rather, it means zoning into calm, conscious awareness.  Mindfulness is not intense, forceful concentration – it is gentle, non-judgmental attention.

Purpose for Mindfulness:

– It is a natural desire to want.  We want, then we eventually become content, and then we eventually want more.  This is the cycle of suffering (aka the cycle of stress, dissatisfaction, or  struggle).  You will never obtain everything in life.  You simply will not have everything you want – it is impossible because everything is infinite.

– However, you can control your mind and step outside the endless cycle of desire and aversion.  You don’t have to want – you can recognize desires but not be controlled by them.

Buddha said “the essence of life is suffering”.  “Suffering” is simply considered a deep yet subtle sense of dissatisfaction – a ubiquitous tension & unrest present throughout life.

– Human suffering is best acknowledged in the form of mindfulness meditation – we become aware of our suffering by simply observing and accepting this constant condition. 

Suffering, as felt ‘unsatisfactoriness‘, is not inherently “bad”.  It is merely a condition of psychological unrest.  Mindfulness essentially manages this condition by gently observing ourselves as we are, without resisting.

– If you have a hard time with the word suffering and its concept, perhaps consider it as dissatisfaction, stress, or struggling – the everyday, basic human struggle

Implementing Mindfulness as a Way of Life:

– Although mindfulness aims to eliminate want (desire), mindfulness does not attempt to deny love and joy, nor does it attempt to avoid ambition and productivity.  Mindfulness simply diminishes and releases the negative effects of compulsive desire and reactive aversion.

– Mindfulness is not forceful – it is not the attempt to control our senses and perceptions; it is not careful  manipulation of our thoughts; it is not visualization of actions.   Mindfulness is simply awareness, and we gain awareness through gentle focus of the mind.

-We gain focus of our minds by gently concentrating our attention on our breath. 

– Our breath is our constant center – it is always there for us to notice, and it naturally activates the branch of the nervous system which relaxes the mind & body.  Thus the breath is the focus of our attention during mindfulness.

– Vipassana, by definition, is the cultivation of mindfulness or awareness.

– In vipassana meditation we train ourselves to ignore the constant impulses to be more comfortable.

Patience is the key.  Patience.  If you learn nothing else from meditation, you will learn patience.  Patience is essential for any profound change.

– When you relax your driving desire for comfort, real fulfillment arises.  When you drop your hectic pursuit of gratification, the real beauty of life comes out.

– That which is learned can be unlearned, and the first step to unlearn a desire or aversion is to realize when you’re engaging it and gently observe it.

– The escape from the obsessive nature of thought produces a whole new view of reality.  Not only is it OK to not always be thinking, it is necessary.  We mustn’t be constantly analyzing and planning. 

– This does not mean zoning out or denying reality.  Rather, it meanszoning into calm, conscious awareness which is anchored by attentionto the breath.

– Always speak mindfully and listen mindfully.  When we speak and listen mindfully, our interactions become much more memorable and meaningful. 

– Mindful communication establishes deeper coherence.

When practicing mindfulness, as soon as you notice your mind is no longer on your breath, gently bring it back and anchor it there.  No matter how many times your mind wanders, keep gently bringing it back to your breath.

  Notice the air slowly and smoothly flowing into your nostrils.  Notice your stomach gently expand when you breathe in; notice it gently contract when you breathe out.  Appreciate the process of breathing –enjoy it.

– The roots of anger, fear, and hatred are within ourselves.  If we gradually and mindfully uproot these conditioned feelings, then nobody’s actions or words will significantly affect us.

– When we center on breath, we are automatically placed in the present.

– You will get distracted.  But return your attention to your breath again, and again, and again, for as long as it takes.  Do this gently.

– In mindfulness meditation:  TRUST YOURSELF.  Trust your own ability to deal with issues at a later, more appropriate time – use the energy & freshness of meditation to resolve those issues more calmly & efficiently.

– Whatever experience we may be having, mindfulness just accepts it.

– No matter what the source of your fear, mindfulness is the cure.  Accept the fear exactly as it is.  Don’t cling to it, just watch it grow and move through you.  Simply observe its effects.

– The instant you realize you have been unmindful, that realization itself is an act of mindfulness.  Embrace this mindfulness process which you’ve already started.

– If you are mindful then nothing is boring.  Mindfulness looks at everything through the eyes of a child, with a sense of wonder.  Mindfulness sees every moment as if it were the first and only moment in the universe.

Mindfulness watches things moment by moment, continuously.  It is observing all phenomena – physical, mental, or emotional – whatever is presently taking place in our perception.  Mindfulness just sits back and watches the show.

Mindfulness observes experiences very much like a scientist observing an object under a microscope, without any preconceived notions, only to see the object exactly as it is.

– Mindfulness grows by realizing, by letting go, by settling down in the moment and letting yourself get comfortable with whatever you are experiencing.

– Mindfulness is cultivated by gentle effort – you cultivate it by constantly reminding yourself in a gentle way to maintain your awareness of whatever is happening right now.

Constantly bring yourself back to a state of relaxed awareness – gently, gently, gently.

– Mindfulness is the essence of patience.

– Mindfulness can be and should be applied to each and every activity in one’s life.

– When you are truly mindful, your nervous system is fresh and resilient which fosters insight – when a problem arises, you are better equipped to handle it calmly and efficiently with no fuss.

– Mindfulness is constantly investigating life, examining experience, and viewing existence in a calmly inquisitive manner.  Mindfulness is constantly open to truth in any form, from any source, at any time – this is the state of mind necessary for liberation.

– Mindfulness makes you increasingly stable, increasingly moored in the simple experience of moment-to-moment existence.

– Loving kindness/friendliness is one of the four sublime states defined by Buddha, along with compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity.

– We often need to ignore peoples’ superficial weaknesses and understand the good in their hearts.

– When you’re in a state of loving kindness, negative attitudes of others do not affect you – they do not change you.  Appreciate the negative individual on a deeper level and remain loving.

– Cultivate loving friendliness toward yourself first, with the intention of sharing this kindness with others.

– Buddha asked us to think of and treat challenging individuals the same way we would if they were suffering from a terrible illness – we pardon people who are ill, but ultimately we are all ill and are experiencing, have experienced, or will experience significant struggle (suffering).

– We cannot cultivate loving friendliness in isolation from the world.

– Dealing with others in a kindhearted way will help to liberate you from suffering.

– If you respond to anger with loving friendliness, the other person’s anger will not increase.  Loving kindness is the underlying principle behind all wholesome thoughts, words, and deeds, and mindfulness is the path toward maintaining a state of loving kindness.