Dr. Dr. John Dunne Mindfulness Philosophy Study

John Dunne’s class on the Facets of Mindfulness and Croissants

I never understood the value of learning valid cognition until taking John Dunne’s class on the Facets of Mindfulness this fall.  By observing the process through which our mind makes coherent the vast array of sensory information it receives, the negative emotions which form based upon our feelings about these sensory experiences lose their foothold.  
By seeing through analysis that no two experiences can ever be the same, all the expectations of attachment and fears towards aversive experiences —which are based on comparison to “similar” experiences that caused such reactions in the past—no longer have a basis for arising.  All negative emotions necessarily rely on memory of the past and expectation for the future, thus learning to look at the present moment with more and more subtle levels of awareness yields mindstates that are more free and open to see our experience with less and less mental and emotional baggage attached.

One example that John used in class to demonstrate how concepts are formed through exclusion (i.e. how X is labeled based on comparison to what is Not-X) worked particularly well for me because of how much I like this particular food.  

When I think “croissant” I am automatically comparing it to all the croissants I have had or seen in the past and conflating them into a category of “croissant-ness.”  But this croissant I have in my hand at the moment actually shares nothing in common with the croissant I had in Paris as a teenager.  Sure, compared to the small squares of cardboard and sawdust baked and sold as “bread” here in Kathmandu, the croissant from a local bakery might be thought to share “crescent-shaped-ness” and “baked-with-butter-to form-layers-in-the-dough-ness.”  But is this crescent shape the same as the shape of even the one next to it?  Let alone the shape of the croissant in my memory of childhood!  Look closely, I can find lots of differences between the two shapes.  The same follows for its layered texture.  The type of flour and butter used in France is rather different from that found here, likewise the texture which characterizes this croissant is actually not the same as the one in my memory at all.  Even comparing one bite to the next from the same croissant reveals so many differences between the two experiences!  The shape and size of each bite is different, texture also varies, as well as the taste. 

But usually I don’t notice these things.  Instead I am just looking with big hungry eyes at all the prospective candidates for breakfast sitting on the shelf and fusing them with all the other “croissants” I have eaten in my life until now which conditioned me to like them so much.  But what if the one today gives me food poising?  Probably then I am not going to like them so much anymore.  Where is the likability in the croissant?  Its simply not there.  It never was there.  It never will be there.  Yet my mind grasps to that “deliciousness” so strongly!  Funny, isn’t it?  The habit of projecting qualities onto objects is really deeply ingrained.  

But by dissecting simple everyday life experiences, like breakfast, we can start to see how suffering arises and also how it is possible to be free from that suffering.  That was the point of all of the Buddha’s teachings, and why it can be so helpful to study dharma—if I actually remember to apply the teachings to my experience, otherwise breakfast is just breakfast and not especially helpful toward liberation!

~Ani Sangye from USA

Ani Sangye with Ani Gyan Tara from Nagi Gompa

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