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Young Voices: Mingyur Rinpoche, Meditative Awareness, Mind Training, and Mental Agility

Young Voices is a special project from Buddhistdoor Global collecting insightful essays written by high school students in the US who have attended experiential-learning-based courses rooted in the Buddhist teaching. Running in parallel with BDG’s Beginner’s Mind project for college students, Young Voices offers a platform for these students to share essays expressing their impressions and perspectives on their exposure to the Buddhadharma and its relationship with their hopes, aspirations, and expectations.

Kian Burt wrote this essay for his Global Buddhisms class at Phillips Andover, a high school in Massachusetts.

Mingyur Rinpoche, Meditative Awareness, Mind Training, and Mental Agility

My eyes surveyed the cafeteria in front of me. A plate of food in my hand, I felt like the new kid in a scene from a suburban teenage movie; a cafeteria filled with large tables designed to create acute awkwardness for whoever sits alone. 

A couple weeks ago, I gave up my phone as an experiment. I was inspired by Mingyur Rinpoche’s line of “adding wood to the fire.” In this idea, Mingyur Rinpoche challenges us to confront our fears and transform situations we want to escape from into situations we embrace. I chose to give up my phone because I depend on it for instant communication and for brain breaks by consuming social media. However, I am unaware whether the buzz in my pocket is my mom or an email from HelloFresh with an offer of 16 free meals and the first box shipped for free. My phone regularly distracts me, leading me to wonder whether I even need to receive my notifications instantly. So I decided to give up my phone—for at least a week or two. 

Inspired by Venerable Mingyur Rinpoche’s message of embracing our fears, I decided to give up my phone. I was unable to text my friends to meet for dinner or to spend time together on the weekend. In a school of 1,100 students, I am uncomfortable sitting by myself. I cannot remember the last time I saw someone eating alone without homework or a phone. By throwing myself into this experience, I forced myself to confront my dependency on digital communication, social media, and, as I would later discover, I challenged myself to practice meditative awareness. 

Looking around, I saw that the cafeteria had a single empty table by the door. I walked over and sat down. Completely stuck in the moment, I was absorbed by my inner thoughts. I looked weird alone, thinking to myself, “How awkward it must look to have nothing in front of you, no laptop, no phone.” You always need to be doing something, never doing nothing. I started to feel the pressure. Everyone was watching me. My heart was pounding, but I was just eating dinner in a school cafeteria. 

One class, my teacher, Mr. Housiaux, had us walk to a public space and watch ourselves watch others. In other words, as we watched people study, strike up conversations, or simply walk by, we paid attention to our inner thoughts and the narratives we created. I remember the confidence I embodied when I sat down unabashedly watching those around me. In the school cafeteria, I tried stirring up the same confidence and sense of purpose I had felt doing Mr. Housiaux’s assignment. 

Forcing myself to look at my surroundings, I observed the winter golden hue that filled the cafeteria as the sun set earlier and earlier. My shoulders relaxed and my mind calmed. But I was calm only for a moment. I attempted to recenter my mind but could never maintain the fleeting state of calmness. I was once again absorbed by my inner thoughts until my friend joined me for dinner and I was freed from my situation.  

In that brief moment, I chose to be calm when I was stressed. I had practiced the powerful act of “mind training,” coined by Mingyur Rinpoche. He uses this term to describe the act of recognizing and overcoming emotional distress that leads to a state of meditative awareness. In his book, In Love With The World, he recalls the first train ride he took on his wandering retreat. Struggling to feel compassion for those around him, he remarks: “Once again, my body was in one place, my mind in another . . . mind training is becoming aware of the subtler sensations—connecting the mind with them, and seeing how they influence us.” (Mingyur Rinpoche, 17) In other words, when my mind starts to race, I have the opportunity to practice pausing and regulating my emotions. 

Incorporating Mingyur Rinpoche’s lesson with my moment in the cafeteria, I had a moment of mind-body disconnect. I was briefly in a meditative awareness as I looked about my surroundings, but I was unable to continue the calm mind training. Instead of worrying about how I look to the world when I sit by myself, I should focus on what I am able to see myself. Had I noticed others engrossed in conversations nearby, I would have become aware of the fact that people do not pay attention to those they do not recognize. In the cafeteria, only my friends acknowledged me. 

I focused on my breath, choosing to quiet the voices in my head rather than recognize and accept them. Mingyur Rinpoche made a similar connection when he discusses how becoming aware of his surroundings—such as the beautiful blue sky, birds singing, and leaves moving in the wind—is a practice of meditative awareness for him. (Mingyur Rinpoche, 8) He calmed his mind and was able to appreciate the beauty around him. I had done the same, finding a moment of meditative awareness. This is a simple practice; by simply taking a breath and focusing on your surroundings you can take refuge from your emotions. 

Mingyur Rinpoche teaches us to embrace challenging situations by recognizing our emotions and rising above them. In a time like high school, known for insecurity, self-consciousness, and self-realization, this teaching serves as a way for teenagers to find refuge. Instead of worrying about how others view us, we can focus within ourselves and manage the thoughts that cause us to be self-conscious. If even the 36-year-old Buddhist monk Mingyur Rinpoche can struggle with meditative awareness, then I hope that this lesson in emotional agency can help others as well.

Special thanks to Mr. Housiaux and Ethan Lai who helped me revise and edit.

References

Mingyur Rinpoche, Yongey, and Helen Tworkov. 2019. In Love with the World: A Monk’s Journey Through The Bardos Of Living And Dying. New York: Random House.

Related features from BDG

A Prescription for Digital Millennials: Sanghas
How Giving Up My Phone Changed My Life
Phone Fasting

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Beginner’s Mind

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