The Four Foundations of Mindfulness or The Satipatthana Sutta
As mindfulness has come to mean many things in our modern usage, with the potential to be watered down into being calm, relaxed, or nice it is useful to reflect upon its actual roots in Buddhism.
The Four Foundations of Mindfulness, or the Satipatthana Sutta, is the classical teaching attributed to the Buddha which outlines a simple, direct way anyone may lessen and end suffering. Below is a brief overview of the foundations as I understand them, express them, and explore them as an interfaith practitioner. Interfaith here implies a respect for the world’s spiritual and religious traditions without identifying as one in particular.
The first foundation is the body, the physical, our direct sensory connection to the world. Use your senses, your body, and your breath to bring you home. It is simple and significant. This place you are is the only place you truly exist.
The second foundation is the feelings. Being aware of your emotional reaction to the present moment. We are always emoting subconsciously. Literally, we are having a reaction whether we are conscious of it or not. Mindfulness asks us to make it conscious, to see it clearly and to not be so driven by emotional reactivity.
The third foundation is the thoughts. Being aware of the thinking process. We are often lost in thought, convinced of thought, trying to think our way out of stress & suffering. In reality, life does not yield itself to simple problem solving. Awareness of thoughts as things rather than certainties gives us much more perspective and response flexibility.
The fourth foundation is more complicated. It is sometimes referred to as awareness of mental formations. I once asked a very experienced Buddhist friend to explain it more to me, she said “it’s everything else.” The energy with which she said this, as a devoted meditator, struck me. This the launching pad into the mysteries of consciousness and the possibility for clear comprehension within the vicissitudes of this wild and precious life.
What is particularly interesting in this ancient understanding via the Buddha is that it matches our concept of the evolution of the brain- from biological instinct, to raw emotion, to abstract thought. And it champions the ability we have to integrate it all anew; to live with more intention, care, and wisdom. To lessen, and potentially, end suffering.
Simple but not easy. Profound and Practical. May it be so!
Natasha Korshak is a long-time teacher and trainer of yoga, meditation, mindfulness and MBSR, and has been working in the field of integrative health and wellness her entire professional career. She is a graduate of the Interfaith Theological Seminary and an ordained Interfaith Minister specializing in contemplative practice, grief processing, and spiritual direction. Her study and training of mind/body/spirit methods is extensive and she has learned from many of the pioneers in their discipline. As the founder and director of the Sol Center she is well regarded for her depth, warmth, authenticity, and the smile in her voice.