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Shambhala Sun | September 2010
You'll find this article on page 42 of the magazine.


Mindfulness: The Most Direct Path

by James Baraz

The Buddha spoke of mindfulness as the most direct way to overcome sorrow and lamentation, end pain and anxiety, and realize the highest happiness. That’s quite a claim!

What is so special about mindfulness? Of all the fifty-two mental factors listed in Buddhist psychology, mindfulness possesses a unique power. It weakens the negative or unwholesome mind states that cause us suffering, such as attachment, aversion, and confusion, and strengthens the wholesome mind states that lead to happiness, such as kindness, generosity, and wisdom. It can even help us develop the penetrating awareness that opens the mind to full awakening.

When I first learned about the transformative power of mindfulness, and experienced it for myself, I wanted to run down the streets telling anyone who would listen, “You just have to be mindful!” I’ve since learned that there are other important strategies that can help when life throws us a curve—compassion and loving-kindness practices, reaching out to friends, teachers, and guides for wise counsel, trauma modalities where necessary. But after all these years, mindfulness still seems to me the primary tool for working with life’s difficulties. Mindfulness trains us to be more conscious and awake to what’s going on in our world. Mindfulness helps us respond with greater clarity and a kind heart to whatever situation we find ourselves in. It helps us to be more present for our lives.

However, as any student of Buddhism will tell you, mindfulness takes practice. It’s one thing to have the intention to be present. It’s quite another to actually do it. That’s why formal mindfulness meditation is so crucial to being more mindful in all our daily activities. As with any skill, practicing mindfulness in a formal way will help it to arise naturally and spontaneously.

Originally published in the September 2010 "How to Meditate" issue of the Shambhala Sun.

James Baraz is a founding teacher of Spirit Rock Meditation Center and leads retreats, workshops, and classes around the U.S. and abroad. With Shoshana Alexander, he is the author of Awakening Joy: 10 Steps That Will Put You on the Road to Real Happiness (Bantam). Since 2003, he has also led an online course at


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