There is another kind of friend, a bad friend, the friend who seems to agree with us all the time, who spoils us without ever resisting or disagreeing with us. This is not a good friend. A good friend is a friend that keeps reminding you of the proper way of living, who keeps reminding you not to be lost in yourself. Mindfulness works like that. It keeps calling your mind not to be spoiled, not to indulge in your thoughts; be they good thoughts or bad thoughts. Those who have mindfulness will be aware of this. You can observe for yourself how long you have already spoiled your mind. You let it be distracted all the time; you never try to call it back to its proper place. You just follow it, and support it. When your mind gets angry, you follow the anger; when your mind is frustrated, you let it dwell on its frustration. You never recall your mind. Sometimes you may try, but you never have enough strength to call it back, “Hey! Come back. You are indulging in anger. You are lost in anxiety or suffering. Come back!” Now, with mindfulness, you will be able to be a good friend to yourself. You will be able to call your mind back to its proper place, to the present moment, to the present activity. We are not going to spoil our minds anymore. We will be able to turn our attention to the place where it can experience non-suffering, be beyond suffering. You may call it happiness, if you like. If you have insight, you will know that happiness is also a kind of suffering. Suffering is like the head of the snake; happiness is like the tail of the snake. When you touch the tail of the snake it does not bite you instantly, but later, the snake will turn around and bite you. That is why we should go beyond happiness and suffering, a state that can be achieved with mindfulness. Now, we are able to be our best friend, a noble friend, Kalyanamitta. Kalyanamitta means noble friend.
It is like this with weeds too. Weeds are undesirable in some respects, but if you arrange them properly and skillfully, they can live peacefully with the flowers and become part of a beautiful garden. Weeds are not useless all the time; in some situations, they are very beneficial. They become herbs or decorative plants in the garden. Learn how to arrange the ugliness or the undesirable qualities in your life properly and skillfully, so they can be transformed from harmful to beneficial properties. Anger can be transformed, anxiety can be transformed, jealously can be transformed, hatred can be transformed, but these transformations are not possible if you do not know how to come to terms with them. So this is how we can be our best friend, to not regard ourselves as the enemy. A lot of people hate themselves. They cannot bear themselves because they find a lot of bad things in themselves. That is the kind of relationship that we should avoid, the kind of
Experience that we should avoid. Use mindfulness or awareness to accept and use these bad things for both the benefit of your spiritual well being and your daily life. I would like to encourage you to continue the practice after the meditation retreat in whatever way you prefer or is suitable to you.
As you know, there are two ways of practice, formal and informal. You should combine these two ways of practice. In fact, informal practice is very useful. It is very powerful for us, especially for lay people but even for monks, because we spend so much time in our lives informally. Just think, in our lifetime, we spend about seven years altogether in the bathroom. Incredible, but it is true, seven years in our bathroom. If you use seven years for the whole practice, that is wonderful. A retreat of seven days is small compared to the seven years in the bathroom. You meditate in the bathroom; whatever you do, whether it be brushing your teeth, taking a bath, urinating, or excreting, can be the act or form for mindfulness. You can breathe with mindfulness when you are on the toilet, or just rub your fingers. You can improve greatly if you are mindful in the bathroom. Do not belittle it. In fact, the time spent in the bathroom is only a small portion of our lives. We spend much more time on the street or in the office.
Please integrate mindfulness into your daily life. Take every opportunity for mindfulness, even try to choose something as a sign to recall your mind back, for example, the traffic light when you cross the road. Most people prefer the green light and do not like the red one, right? When we face a red light, we are disturbed. We want to go through; we do not want to stop at the crossing. Please regard the red light as the sign to stop your distracted thoughts, or to call your mind back to the breath or to your hands that are holding the steering wheel. Just rub your fingers or follow your breath mindfully with awareness during the red light.
When you hear the telephone ring, do not rush to it suddenly. Wait for a while. For people in primitive countries, for people in villages, it is quite strange that we are so stimulated or sensitive to telephone rings; we just go instinctively. Why are you so reactive to that? You should be mindful of yourself. You should know when to walk to the telephone gracefully. So, let it ring for a few times, then just walk calmly to it, or use it as a sign to call your mind back first. Do not react to it suddenly or hastily. So you can choose many events in the chaos of your daily life as instruments for your mindfulness; be they noises, sights, odors, or sounds. This is how we apply informal practice to our daily life. Nevertheless, I would like to suggest you not forget formal practice either. Spare at least a few minutes of your day every day for formal practice. Every day, either after you wake up or before you go to bed, spare at least ten minutes for the formal practice. You can spend half a day every week or one week every year for formal training. The ten minutes in your daily life, or a half day or one day in your week, or the two weeks in a year, will expand the meditation zone from ten minutes to twenty minutes and then to thirty minutes in daily life.
By meditation zone, I refer to the state of mind. For example, if you practice ten minutes in meditation with awareness, the next ten minutes will be dominated by awareness despite your having already stood up and given up the formal training. The influence of awareness covers the time beyond the formal practice. If you keep doing this, it will keep expanding from ten minutes to twenty minutes to thirty minutes. It expands like the radiance of meditation that keeps expanding if you keep practicing. This is what I call meditation zone in terms of time, in terms of influence, or state of mind. Eventually, people around you will be affected by your mindfulness, by your awareness. This is how you can transform them by your own natural being. Peace can be experienced by the people around you, as can compassion and loving kindness. If you have loving kindness, it will radiate out from you and people will be affected by it. The same is true of mindfulness. It also radiates and affects the people around you positively.
Please, keep reminding yourself to apply the practice to your daily life in suitable and skillful ways. There is no formula for this, but the point is to take advantage of everything, every moment, every event, and every occasion for mindfulness. Even the death of somebody you love, even the harsh words you hear, can be transformed to be positive and beneficial for you and other people. Similar to garbage transformed into flowers and food for us to eat. Food we eat and beautiful flowers are grown out of compost, or garbage. Their roots know how to transform garbage or compost into life, into vitality, into beautiful flowers.
Keep practicing, and your mind will come back more and more quickly. You already have mindfulness and awareness in your mind. Please use them over and over. Unlike the body, where if you use a muscle too much it becomes exhausted, mindfulness is not limited by how much you use it. The more you use it the more powerful it becomes. So do not waste it or spare it. Just use it, and it will always come to your mind. I have a small calendar in my pocket, but I always forget that I have it because I seldom look at it. If I use it often, I will easily be reminded that it is in my pocket. When I need to know the date, I just take it from my pocket. However, since I seldom use it, I always forget that I have it there. The same goes for mindfulness, you already have it but you always forget it. The more you use it, the more frequently it comes to your mind. So, please use it as it is, as you already have it.
Source: Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Universities (JIABU) Volume viii 2016. http://www.iabu.org/JIABU2016v8