We have just finished practicing Sati, or presence of mind, awareness or mindfulness with our students.
Neil Amas, our School Director, shares further information on Sati that you may find useful.
Sati is most commonly translated as presence of mind, awareness or mindfulness. It originates from the Sanskrit word smṛti, the root meaning of which is ‘to remember’ and as such it further has the meaning of retention or recollection. To have sati is to be fully present, not lost in daydreams, anticipation or worry. It is being alert and attentive to everything as it is, not filtering things though our subjective opinions. It is also remembering to be aware of something or to do something at a designated time in the future.
Sati has the characteristic of faithfully returning back to refocus on an object whenever the mind wanders away from it. The Buddha advocated that one should establish sati in one’s day-to-day life, maintaining as much as possible a calm awareness of one’s bodily functions, sensations (feelings), objects of consciousness (thoughts and perceptions), and consciousness itself.
Sati is part of the Noble Eightfold Path. Practising Right Effort (viriya), Right Awareness (sati) and Right Concentration (samadhi) together helps us to train the mind to be calm, balanced and, ultimately, freed from the dissatisfactions that cloud our thoughts. As unwholesome or negative thoughts arise in the mind, we apply sati to recognise them and prevent them from causing difficulty or unpleasantness. Sati is the moderating tool we use to assess our practice and progress in the other wise habits and, importantly, to understand the right balance between them. For example, we might become aware that although we have plenty of enthusiasm for a task (chandha), we lack sufficient patience to complete it (khanti). It is like a mental witness, a built in system of notes and reminders which helps us stay present, learn from past mistakes, do things better next time.
Venerable Ajahn Jayasaro explains in 12 Ways to Happiness that when we are able to solve problems or make things better quickly, it means we have sati. ‘’If we are able to use, adapt or apply what we learn from the past to fix the problem in the present, we have sati.’’ He advises parents and teachers that we need to realise clearly what we are doing at the present, what we are teaching now, what students are learning and whether they are listening to us. This helps us to keep focusing on teaching or parenting, doing our best to teach and guide our children continuously without being distracted. There are times when we talk to our children with one eye on the computer, or with our minds thinking about what happened at work today or what chores we need to do later. And yet we also experience times when we give full attention to what we are doing with our children. This tends to result in a happier, healthier experience for both us and our children.
We need to encourage eye contact from our children, remind them to place their shoes neatly on the shoe rack, ask them to describe the taste of their food, have them check their bags routinely before school in the morning, encourage self-awareness of sensations and feelings when they get angry or upset and remind them of their home and classroom responsibilities. A child who kicks off his shoes, gulps down her food, forgets her school book or loses his temper easily does not have sati.
Changing the mental habits and conditioning of a lifetime, no matter how short, is not easy. We might encourage ourselves and our children to choose a particular activity such as preparing or eating a meal, washing the dishes, or taking a walk, and make an effort to be fully mindful of the task as we perform it. In time we will find ourselves paying more attention to everything. No matter how brief the moment that the mind is fully focused on the here and now, it is very powerful. As we develop sati the mind becomes lucid, the body alert and we are able to think with clarity and composure, to make wise choices, to know our responsibilities and improve ourselves.
If we are unaware of our present actions, we are condemned to repeating our mistakes from the past and never achieving our dreams for the future. It is said that if you miss the moment, you miss your life. How much of our lives have we missed? Be mindful!