Why this in its own way is extraordinary, is because most people have their attention on the thoughts constantly coming and going in their own minds. Thinking itself is not the problem; the problem is when thoughts are mistaken for our self and our life. We become attached to what we think and unconsciously defend it as if these thoughts were things and that without them we somehow give up what and who we are. Without our thoughts we do not cease to exist, but with them we begin to define and close off the world so that only what our thinking approves of is accepted and what our thinking disapproves of is rejected. Is not this the very core of conflict, strife and eventually war itself?
If we can through our experience of practice come to notice the texture, contour, shape and impression that this life right here and now is presenting us with; what problem, conflict or obstacle in the mind is present or a problem? In other words, by learning to pay attention not to our thinking but to our life (what we see, hear, taste, touch, smell and even think), we free ourselves from the cage of the mind (i.e. holding, wanting, attachment and judging).
Thinking is not good or bad, it is largely out of our control. Thinking becomes a problem when we filter ourselves through thought and not notice the immediate and complete experience of the life we are experiencing right now. Practice is about noticing this, about developing the insight that we are not a thought and that the world is not a thought. Practice is about noticing that we can find peace and freedom right where we are. By taking attention off of thought and onto our life we find ourselves and the life we have been seeking all along. True mindfulness is noticing what we are directly experiencing in this moment; it is the total investment in the life that we are living and not the one that we want or don’t want.
Begin by noticing the breath, your footsteps, any sustained activity, a sport (also: chanting, mantra, bowing, just sitting, prayer, your job, a conversation – anything and everything IS practice!). When your attention falls away from the object of practice and gets carried away in thought, notice this and gently bring it back to your object of practice. Over time this habit will become more natural and life will open up before you in a way that is satisfying and completely true. Taking attention off of thought and onto our life allows us to see the reality and truth of our lives. In this moment before the next thought, the ordinary function of our day-to-day lives becomes the living expression of the Buddha Dharma itself.