- Excerpt from Ajahn Munindo's new book 'The Gift of Well-Being'
Can you say something about mindfulness meditation, about how to cultivate mindfulness?
Ajahn Munindo
Actually, I've only just got around to letting myself use the word 'mindfulness', because I feel that the word automatically starts taking us up into our heads which causes us to lose touch with our bodies. It's a translation of a word in Pali, sati, which I prefer to be translated as 'awareness'. The first point is that it can be cultivated; we must be quite conscious of that. In fact, one of the things that we encourage ourselves to do in the cultivation of awareness is to see what happens when we don't have it, when we blow it and get heedless; we need to feel deeply the consequences. We shouldn't moralise and say, "Oh, that was terrible. I'm a really hopeless Buddhist. I'm not very mindful." This is actually avoidance. We should say, "I'm really interested in this. I'm really interested in the quality of my life, and this is what it's like." We should let it sink into our bones: so much of our experience is a consequence of heedlessness. Judging - inwardly and outwardly - only obstructs awareness. To be able to bring a quality of non-judgmental attention to the very experience of the consequences of heedlessness is a primary means of cultivating mindfulness.

I hesitate to talk about meditation techniques, because there's an aspect of our minds that just wants to get something to 'fix ourselves', so that we can become how we want to be. But technique isn't going to fix us. If anything can help us it is following our own thoroughly investigated inclination towards the realisation of what really matters. From that understanding of ourselves we can really want to meditate: not because some clever person or popular religion or book said it was a good idea but because we want to be in the centre of our life, present for every experience, moment by moment. Meditation is not about preparing for the future with fearful manipulation, but about wanting to live with presence. If we can feel the point of this, and happen to discover an inspiration to meditate, we'll meditate successfully. But it has got to come from that sort of motivation.
If we don't exercise our minds, then just as with a physical limb, atrophy sets in. If you have had a broken leg and it's been in plaster for a month or two you will know how, when they take off the cast, there's just a withered thing. When you want to do something with it, it won't function. Even though your head tells you this limb should do such and such, and you want to do it, it won't do it through lack of exercise. Similarly, if we don't exercise the discipline of attention that engages the limb of mindfulness, it atrophies.
Counting the breath is one basic, simple exercise that you can practice to cultivate mindfulness. When I teach people to count the breath as a meditation technique, I always try to encourage them to do it with a sense of humour, as a kind of game, because the last thing we need is for meditation to become another aspect of the compulsive part of ourselves. We count the out-breaths, from one up to ten and back to one. It's fine to sit in a chair; you don't have to get all 'yogic' about it, although it's good if you can. We count, and get lost, and begin again; we find all kinds of feelings arising which we just notice. We can contemplate them: are these aspects of ourselves obligations, or are they choices? Little by little, we'll see how much our preoccupation's are a matter of choice. We have a choice, we can choose to follow or not to follow certain ways. This is how we find our own centre. You'll be very pleased when that happens.
This is only one way of using the meditation on breath, and there are other ways of doing it. But whichever mindfulness practice you take up, please remember to be relaxed about it - otherwise you may compound things that don't need compounding.