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The four foundations of mindfulness

In Part 2 of her seven-part series, Toronto-area family lawyer Nicolle Kopping-Pavars discusses the four foundations of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is just as important to our well-being as ensuring we get enough nutrients each day, says Toronto-area family lawyer Nicolle Kopping-Pavars.

“Once we start taking mindfulness into our lives, it’s like taking vitamins. It’s so good for us,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“As vitamins nourish us and keep us healthy, so too can mindfulness.”

Kopping-Pavars, principal of NKP Law, says it’s important to practice it in the correct way though and knowledge of its foundations will set you on the right path from the beginning.

“Just being mindful without being wise or having some kind of insight is the wrong type of mindfulness. In order to gain insight, we need to understand the four foundations of mindfulness,” she says.

1. Mindfulness of body

Kopping-Pavars, who also teaches mindfulness, says this means becoming aware of your whole body and then understanding that it includes the breath, flesh and bones.

“When you breathe, become aware of the breath in the body and understand that our body is moving because of it.”

Also, think about the body as it ages — its aches and pains and even our own mortality, she says.

“This is just a body that works for us as we go through this journey of life. A good meditation to fine-tune awareness is a body scan meditation to focus on each of its parts.”

Kopping-Pavars says mindfulness of body includes real-time awareness, such as noticing when your chest is rising or your eyes are blinking.

2. Mindfulness of feelings

This includes becoming aware of bodily sensations as well as emotions, she says.

Become aware of bodily sensations once your senses make contact with something. 

"For example, when your eyes make contact with a beautiful flower, notice the eye making contact and then the emotion that follows," Kopping-Pavars explains.

"Ah, this flower is gorgeous; it makes me feel happy just looking at it," she says. 

“Noticing you’re judging nature is also impactful. Once you notice that, you will become aware that you’re constantly judging. Particularly as lawyers, we live in a world of judgment. Notice how our emotions are very attached to bodily sensations.”

She says in mindfulness, however, the point is not to judge, but to accept things as they are and then realize that nothing ever stays the same.

"Becoming the observer of our judgment is the key to insight," says Kopping-Pavars.

3. Mindfulness of the mind

Unlike mindfulness of the body, it is not in real time, she says.

“With the mind, you can’t notice your mind working as it’s happening. You realize after the fact that you were lost in thought," she explains. 

"You realize that you were believing the story in your head. The story caused some kind of emotion and that caused you to react. Once you become an observer of this, you are able to recognize your causes and triggers and not allow them to control you as much."

Kopping-Pavars says being mindful allows you to see in that moment that you may have been on autopilot. You become conscious of your mental state, "which provides you with an awareness of it." 

"It's also important to recognize that our mental states come and go and we're not always happy and we're not always angry.

"People assume that mindfulness means being appreciative of things and being grateful. While that is a pleasant, true mindfulness means becoming the observer of when you feel angry or irritated. It's not just about being peaceful. Mindfulness is just a momentary experience; it’s not a sustained experience.

"And perhaps in that moment, you felt really livid or really loved. Notice that," she says. 

4. Mindfulness of dharma

That's the understanding of the way things are, Kopping-Pavars says.

“This is having an awareness of the interconnectedness of all things and seeing things as they are, not how we perceive them.”

 Kopping-Pavars says this last foundation "takes a little longer to understand and comes with time."

“What we perceive to be truth, actually isn’t the truth.”

She gives the example of how we think of our body.

“We perceive it to be beautiful. We colour our hair and we put on makeup and perfume. The truth of the matter is our body is disgusting.”

She says if we don’t bathe or brush our teeth, we stink.

“Part of mindfulness is having an understanding that the body is always moving toward mortality and you accept it.”

Kopping-Pavars says mindfulness is not fighting the reality of what is.

She suggests having a teacher to guide you in becoming more mindful.

"No one has to have a teacher. It's the same thing as doing an online course. You will get the knowledge, but having a person to bounce ideas off of or to answer questions or delve into something with curiosity, that is where guidance can help," she says.

“Your level of understanding will become deeper,” says Kopping-Pavars.

Stay tuned for Part 3 in the series, where Kopping-Pavars will discuss the five hindrances that prevent us from being focused.

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