I was invited to a conference in Gloucestershire not so long ago which was all about dealing with spiritual crises. There were therapists, psychiatrists and counsellors there talking about mindfulness, because this word ‘mindfulness’ seemed to be the main topic of interest, which I thought was very good.
The way to liberate the mind is through mindfulness or awareness, and this is the essence of the Buddha’s teaching; this is the important one. It isn’t that people in general are never mindful or always heedless and ignorant, but speaking for myself, it never meant anything to me in the past; it wasn’t raised up as anything significant. I would be mindful under certain circumstances, but I didn’t know what mindfulness was; I was just that way because the conditions were there for it. And in life-endangering situations, I would be particularly mindful. People would ask me afterwards, ‘Were you frightened?’ And I would say, ‘No, I was very mindful.’ It wasn’t that I had trained myself to be that way; it was just that I was naturally alert on those occasions; it just happened as part of the life-preservation instinct. We didn’t call it ‘mindfulness’, of course, and it wasn’t appreciated even though it had happened. After developing meditation over the years, however, I began to recognize and understand the power of it rather than just seeing it as a technique or a way to gain some limited state.
Psychotherapy gives a forum for talking about things that you would not perhaps talk about in other circumstances. It can be quite useful for allowing fears to become conscious, especially the darker aspects of the psyche. You can’t talk to just anybody about these things because you need someone who will listen to you without making judgements or giving advice, so having that facility can initially be quite useful as a skilful means. But if that process becomes addictive, you can get too interested in yourself as a person. In meditation, on the other hand, you don’t find your personality that interesting after a while.