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The definition of life in mindfulness terms

In this final instalment of a seven-part series on mindfulness, Toronto-area family lawyer Nicolle Kopping-Pavars discusses the definition of life in mindfulness terms.

On our journey through life, we cannot escape pain and suffering, but we can change the way we respond to them and this can help determine our experience on Earth, says Toronto-area family lawyer Nicolle Kopping-Pavars.

“We can understand ourselves better if we understand the five aggregates of mindfulness," Kopping-Pavars tells

"These five aggregates make up each and every one of us. They can be broken down into body and mind. Our mind is then further divided into four categories: feelings, memory perception, mental formations, and consciousness," she says.

"It's like a kaleidoscope. On a whole, we have a picture or a pattern, but when we look closely, we see that it's actually broken up into different compartments that make up the big picture,”

Kopping-Pavars, principal of NKP Law and Lotus-Law, says our bodies are the physical matter that enables us to walk around.

“Obviously, we have to have a body to do what we do in the world,” she says.

"The mind is broken up into feelings, be they pleasant, unpleasant or neutral," says Kopping-Pavars, who offers courses and talks on understanding true mindfulness and how to incorporate it into our daily lives.

“Life and this body are made up of sensations, the physicality of feeling things, which is our body making contact with our sense of sight, sound, taste, smell and touch,” she says. “It’s the feeling of temperature, pressure, someone hurting or hugging you, or tasting a delicious meal or smelling a beautiful aroma, etc. It’s all the physical sensations that we feel in this body of ours.”       

Memory perception is what has happened in the past, but it is not thought, explains Kopping-Pavars.

“For example, if I see an apple for the first time and someone explains what it is to me. The next time I see it, I’ve already identified and classified it and I will know what it is.”

She says this is not only true for physical things but experiences as well.

“The problem can be that we perceive something a certain way. Our brain classifies it and we make a value judgment about it,” Kopping-Pavars says.

“So, if we have a terrible experience as a young child. Let's say a dog bit us. We may grow up thinking that dogs are scary and dangerous — just based on that early experience alone," she says.

"Are all dogs scary and dangerous? No, but our identification and classification system has instilled a perception and an inherent bias as a result of that experience. Therefore, memory perception, while appearing very real to us, is not a trustworthy source of information,” says Kopping-Pavars.

"Then we have our thoughts or mental formations. Thoughts truly are our biggest source of pain and suffering," she says.

“Our mind is very restless and our thoughts get us very agitated. Often, these thoughts can’t be stopped because we have these mental formations that are coming up all the time and we get caught up in them — creating stories, finishing conversations that should have been said, giving people a piece of our mind in our mind, remembering events and stories. We get so caught up in these movies in our head that we feel stress and agitation and this is what is sometimes referred to as 'monkey mind,'" says Kopping-Pavars. 

“You can get carried away by the story and our thoughts. It’s like going into a tornado. It’s hard to get out of it. We can end up on autopilot and we don’t even realize what we’re doing," she says.

“Past mental formations can cause depression and future ones can lead to anxiety,” she says. “We become stuck in the cycle of thinking. True mindfulness is all about being a stable observer so that we realize that we just got stuck in a whole thought process and then we can stop it," she says. 

"We become aware that we are causing our own suffering by getting caught up in the stories," says Kopping-Pavars. "We notice when we are enjoying something or when we are not. We start observing ourselves as though we are our own field of study."

Consciousness is the energy source inside us that allows us to breathe, see, hear, think, taste, touch, smell, and to be aware of it happening, Kopping-Pavars says.

“Consciousness makes contact with phenomena around us and mindfulness is the stable observer of that contact," she says. "Being mindful makes us aware that we've gotten lost in thought and then shifts us out of autopilot or monkey mind and into the present moment.

“Having a strong mindfulness practice means training our mind so that we get to a point that we are able to catch ourselves before we feel the pain or suffering that thoughts and perceptions can cause us. If we aren’t able to stop it, then the next best thing is to catch ourselves whilst we are in it and stop the cycle from taking over and creating anxiety, stress and pain,” says Kopping-Pavars.

She says mindfulness doesn't last long.

“It's a quick, momentary experience that stops you from going into pain and suffering," Kopping-Pavars says. "I can realize that the thought I am having is not me and I can make it stop.

"Unfortunately, most people think that mindfulness is a beautiful, calm space that we can fall into when we are feeling stressed. But this is actually confusing focused attention — or meditation — with true mindfulness. True mindfulness is having the insight to see what is going on in our body and mind at any given moment, and seeing the truth of it," she says. 

"If we understand the five aggregates, we can start to see that these are all temporary. At any given time, they rise and fall and cause us pain, but thoughts, sensations and memories are not us. They only exist in our body and mind as moments." 

Kopping-Pavars says mindfulness teaches us to see our body and mind as an outsider.

"For example, if we start to feel anger, we try to see it as if we are watching someone else," she says. "If we don’t have this awareness, then the mind and the anger become indistinguishable from each other and we get angry. Once angry, we are not neutral and we are unable to objectively observe the mind as it is. 

"If we are aware of the feeling rising inside us and see it as if watching someone else, we realize that the anger is not us and that it can be controlled."

Once we view it objectively and with distance, it subsides, says Kopping-Pavars.

"This is what we are trying to achieve with mindfulness — to be aware of our body and mind at any given time so that we observe the true nature of things," she says. "With insight comes wisdom and with wisdom, we start to free ourselves from pain."

To read Part 1 — an overview of mindfulness and how lawyers can benefit — click here

To read Part 2 — the four foundations of mindfulness — click here

To read Part 3 — the five hindrances to being focused — click here

To read Part 4 — the five rules, or precepts, of mindfulness — click here.

To read Part 5 — how to follow a mindful path in eight simple steps — click here.

To read Part 6 — three things to remember when we’re in pain — click here.

To Read More Nicolle Kopping-Pavars Posts Click Here
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