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I've been reading Thich Nhat Hanh's 'The Miracle of Mindfulness'. It's a wonderful, short book that I wish I had found years ago.

There's one very basic thing I still struggle with. This is a quote from the book:

'When you are walking along a path leading into a village, you can practice mindfulness. [...] You practice by keeping this one thought alive: "I'm walking along the path leading into the village"'

Since I began mindfulness meditations a few years ago I've always aimed to practice an awareness where thoughts are merely things that happen whilst I am being aware, and that I should let them pass as they come, not engaging but not strenuously pushing away. However, is Thich Nhat Hanh suggesting in the quote that we can 'hold' a thought in our minds that mirrors the subject of our awareness, or this instead just a way of articulating the experience of awareness?

He also mentions similar practices regarding mindful breathing throughout the book.

This is such a basic thing that I'm concerned why I haven't 'got' it after all these years, it often feels like I understood mindfulness more when I was relatively new to it!

All the best,
James

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Mindfulness (sati) does not mean "awareness" or "observation" of objects.

Mindfulness means to carry or maintain a wise thought or view in the mind.

The original scriptures say:

One is mindful to abandon wrong view & to enter & remain in right view: This is one's right mindfulness.

MN 117


One recollects the Dhamma and thinks it over. Whenever, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu dwelling thus withdrawn recollects that Dhamma and thinks it over, on that occasion the enlightenment factor of mindfulness is aroused by the bhikkhu.

SN 46.3

For example, if the teaching of non-craving & non-unwholesomeness is maintained in the mind using mindfulness, the mind will be clear & quiet. When the mind is clear & quiet, it will naturally become observant of the breathing without any intention to observe the breathing. However, it is not mindfulness observing the breathing. It is consciousness that observes the breathing. All mindfulness does is keep the mind free from distracting thoughts.

The scriptures (AN 10.58) say all dhamma practises are "governed" by mindfulness. This is the role of mindfulness, namely, to govern practise and keep practise on the right path. Mindfulness does not observe objects. The observing of objects happens automatically because it is the mind's nature to be observant, conscious or aware.

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Can/should we actively use thoughts as part of mindful awareness?

yes you can, yes you should (unless you can do 2nd jhana and higher in which case awareness without thought is preferred when feasible).

examples: SN 56.7 http://lucid24.org/sn/sn56/sn56-007/index.html

AN 10.48 http://lucid24.org/an/an10/an10-0048/index.html

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this stuff about '''When you are walking along a path leading into a village, you can practice mindfulness. [...] You practice by keeping this one thought alive: "I'm walking along the path leading into the village"' ie

[2] "Furthermore, when walking, the monk discerns, 'I am walking.' When standing, he discerns, 'I am standing.' When sitting, he discerns, 'I am sitting.' When lying down, he discerns, 'I am lying down.' Or however his body is disposed, that is how he discerns it.

"In this way he remains focused internally on the body in & of itself, or focused externally... unsustained by anything in the world. This is how a monk remains focused on the body in & of itself.

[3] "Furthermore, when going forward & returning, he makes himself fully alert; when looking toward & looking away... when bending & extending his limbs... when carrying his outer cloak, his upper robe & his bowl... when eating, drinking, chewing, & savoring... when urinating & defecating... when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, & remaining silent, he makes himself fully alert. https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.010.than.html

is about a tiny part of mindfulness of the body, ie ''remaining focused on the body in & of itself'' (instead of caring about external objects) and being alert and so on.

You can go further with the parts of the body

Whether walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, it flexes & stretches: this is the body's movement. Joined together with tendons & bones, plastered over with muscle & skin, hidden by complexion, the body isn't seen for what it is: filled with intestines, filled with stomach, with the lump of the liver, bladder, lungs, heart, kidneys, spleen, mucus, sweat, saliva, fat, blood, synovial fluid, bile, & oil. On top of that, in nine streams, filth is always flowing from it: from the eyes : eye secretions, from the ears : ear secretions, from the nose : mucus, from the mouth : now vomit, now phlegm, now bile. from the body : beads of sweat. And on top of that, its hollow head is filled with brains.

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/snp/snp.1.11.than.html

Like MN10 mentions, there are plenty of other stuff to think about and do for ''remaining focused on the body in & of itself''

then there is also mindfulness of feelings-perceptions and dhammas.

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