Sharon Salzberg

We went on to talk about what the natural property of the chilli is and how it creates a physiological sensation of burning, which is a direct experience. But the next aspect of that reality is what we make of the experience. A cultural belief system can be part of the experience. So a Burmese person might bite down on a chilli, feel the burning, and say,

“Well, good.” Whereas I was saying, “I’ve got to get out of this country! Maybe I can go to Thailand and get a salad!”

It’s not that in meditation we expect to do away with all our interpretations right off the bat. But in the normal course of our days, they come so quickly, we’re lost in them. Consequently, we’re out of touch with our lives. We’ve jumped two weeks ahead—I’m already in Thailand with my salad—instead of here, in the moment, with the pepper. We can use mindfulness to create space between direct experience and interpretation.

Another definition of mindfulness is a quality of awareness that does not add to its object, grasp at it, or push it away in aversion or delusion. If we perceive a pleasant sight or sound or sensation in body, we try to keep it from ever changing. If a sensation is painful, we shove it away in anger, or strike out against an object we perceive as causing us pain. And if the experience is neutral, like eating that apple, or hearing a breath, we may space out or disconnect. It’s in the moment of mindfulness, the moment of awareness, that you can connect to the object without adding to it.