Class Review – The Four Foundations of Mindfulness

I took the Four Foundations of Mindfulness class recently. It was taught by a buddhist nun Ani Lodro Palmo, who recently left Gampo Abbey after nine years to return to Montreal and teach, so I was in for a wonderful surprise. Although I have found all of the teachers at the Burlington Shambhala Center to be great, there is no comparison to someone who has studied intensively for such a long time with Pema Chodron. We were truly blessed to spend the weekend with Ani Lodro. 

The class covered four main topics: Body, Feelings, Mind, and Mental Contents. It started out with connecting to our bodies using an exercise of looking in the mirror and then taught us six different methods to connect. I find it very easy to become disconnected with my body so I appreciate having some new tools to bring mind and body together. The practice I have taken with me the most is simply scanning the body and checking in at the beginning of meditation. 

Next, we learned about feelings. I have always equated feelings with emotions but Ani Lodro pulled them apart by explaining that feelings don't have any judgements attached. They can simply be classified as painful, agreeable or neutral. We can have contact with something which creates a feeling and stop there. Or, we can keep going to creating a concept around the feeling and next creating a story to with the concept. When we don't attend to the feelings, that is when we end up at the concept and story stages. But, we can train on the cushion to "Touch and go" so that we can acknowledge the feeling and let it go. It has really worked for me and I have realized that by sitting with a feeling until it softens, I can just release it and not drag it around with me. My favorite part of this section was an exercise that we did which helped us with people we don't like by really stepping into their shoes and figuring out what they need. 

In the mind section we first were asked "what is the mind, really?" It was interesting to think about how often your mind changes and think that maybe the mind shouldn't be taken too seriously. Three types of mind were introduced: 1) sem – the ordinary or thinking mind, 2) rikpa – the wise, sharp mind and 3) yi – the coordinator. Then, we expanded on the mind section to cover the obstacles and neurosis that keep us from being awake. From this section, I enjoyed the discussion of "right effort". I could relate fully to the two examples of how conventional effort usually goes, either the worm chewing through the tree without joy or vision or the roadrunner always jumping to the next thing but not really getting anywhere. This conversation has sparked a lot more reflection time in my life to determine the right path for any given situation based on what is most fruitful for everyone instead of simply plowing ahead to solve a problem. 

 If you have a chance to take this course, I highly recommend it. And, if you can get to the Montreal Shambhala Center to take a class from Ani Lodro Palmo, it will be a treat. If you don't have access to the class, the concepts are presented in The Heart of the Buddha by Chogyam Trungpa. 

 ~ Jillian Avey,