The four foundations of mindfulness are based on the Satipatthana Sutta, one of the most important and widely studied discourses in Buddhism. This fourfold “establishment of mindfulness” was created to help us attain, as well as maintain, moment-to-moment mindfulness in our lives.
The four foundations of mindfulness are: mindfulness of your body, mindfulness of your feelings, mindfulness of your mind or consciousness, mindfulness of phenomena.
It’s important to note that you don’t have to be a Buddhist to benefit from practicing mindfulness in your relationship. As stated in The Mindful Marriage, mindfulness empowers you to become more present to everything in your life, including your relationship with your partner.
Mindfulness of Your Body
The first foundation is mindfulness of your physical body. This base foundation provides a starting point and brings you into the present moment. You can get in tune with your body by doing a mindfulness meditation exercise called a body scan.
The intention of a body scan is to simply become aware of and present with your body. It’s nice to relax and it’s a bonus if it happens, but that’s not the goal of this exercise. The goal is to check in with each area of your body in a nonjudgmental way, to feel what there is to feel. I have created a downloadable MP3 which will guide you through a body scan awareness meditation.
Mindfulness of Your Feelings
The second foundation is mindfulness of your feelings or sensations. As you begin to become mindful of your physical body, your awareness of feelings and sensations also becomes heightened.
Feelings can be classified into three tones:
These tones correspond with your emotions and help you to see things as they really are.
It’s not unusual to see things differently than your partner. For example, if you both watch the same movie, one of you may love it and think of it as a pleasant experience while the other may really dislike it and perceive it as an unpleasant experience. Your different “feelings” about the movie can result in a disagreement that escalates and leads to conflict.
Coming to terms with your feelings and emotions, especially when they’re unpleasant, can be downright uncomfortable. Given the choice, most of us would prefer to avoid them and push them under the rug. This is unhealthy. Instead, learn how to manage painful emotions through mindfulness. Take time to understand your feelings and label them – pleasant, unpleasant, neutral. Remember that these tones aren’t judgments or thoughts. They are merely a way to classify what you are feeling and sensing so that you can comfortably “be” with things as they are.
Mindfulness of Your Mind or Consciousness
The third foundation is mindfulness of your mind or consciousness. Another way to think of this foundation is to be mindful of your mental state without making judgements. This foundation focuses on turning your attention towards your mental activity (those thoughts and emotions running rampant in your head) and offers up a different lens to see them as objects that can be observed in a non-reactive way.
Just like your feelings and sensations, your various states of mind come and go, depending on what is happening in your relationship and your life in general. Sometimes you are restless and discontent, sometimes you are happy and full of positivity. These thoughts, feelings, and states of mind can pull you into story lines that may not be accurate. This only serves to distract you from the present moment.
As you learn to observe your mental states without judgment or opinion, you can start to disentangle yourself from unhelpful thoughts. Mindfulness of your mind with this awareness will empower you to approach your relationship with a new perspective.
Mindfulness of Phenomena
The fourth and last foundation is mindfulness of how your mind operates. This foundation focuses on opening yourself up to the world you experience. It is a form of reflection on the nature of experience. We can actually learn to see the truth of all arising and passing phenomena.
This asks you to look at your subjective experiences as a gateway. It prompts you to ask questions like, “What am I identifying with or resisting that keeps me tied to this suffering?” or, “What is the origin of this suffering?” Being mindful of your experiences in this way allows you to get to the root of your subjective experience, allowing you to become fully aware and open.
For example, if you’ve had a regrettable incident with your partner, you’re probably feeling sad, angry, misunderstood, tense and/or irritable. You may launch into negative thoughts and judgments about yourself or your partner and how you both reacted. You might be thinking, “Why were they so mean? Nothing ever seems to work between us!”
If you can be mindful of how your mind operates, unpacking the experience so it doesn’t remain a ball of confused emotions, sensations, and mind states, then you are more able to reduce repetitive conflicts in your relationship. This allows whatever is arising in your body in response to conflict – that tension or shortness of breath you’re experiencing – to come and go with an attitude of friendliness, openness, and understanding. This is called practicing self-compassion. In this state, you become more self-aware and can lead you to be more flexible in your responses to your partner.
Putting these Four Foundations of Mindfulness into practice will ultimately put you in touch with your body, feelings, mind, and how your mind operates, helping you to wake up to yourself, your partner, and the real needs of your relationship.
This post was adapted from Toni Parker PhD Tony Parker
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