Today, which was actually the pre-conference day, began with a public lecture (called Mindfulness and its Supportive Friends) by Ajahn Amaro, Abbott of the Amaravati Buddhist Monastery in the UK. It was a very entertaining and interesting lecture in which Ajahn Amaro detailed several analogies and stories from the Buddha pertaining to mindfulness and in particular holistic mindfulness, not just paying attention to a single object but taking in the whole context. One lovely story from the Buddha illustrated how easily we are distracted from being mindful.
Imagine 6 animals (which represent the 5 senses and the mind) a snake, a crocodile, a dog, a bird, a jackal and a monkey all tied together and all pulling in different directions. The snake wants to get to a hole in the ground, the crocodile to the river, the bird to fly up into the sky, the dog to the village, the jackal to the graveyard and the monkey to the forest. As each pulls against the others it creates chaos. Whichever is strongest at the time will drag the others with it, until it gets exhausted and another one takes over. Instead of letting this happen tie the animals to a pillar. They all pull in different directions but they can't move the pillar so in the end they tire and become more peaceful. The pillar is mindfulness.
He also spoke about the 5 distractions that keep us from being mindful, because it is not enough to decide 'I want to be mindful'. These are 1) greed or craving, 2) aversion or negativity, 3) dullness or indolence, 4) agitation and 5) anxiety, worry or doubt. (So familiar!!) The remedy for these is to replace them with positive thoughts such as generosity, patience, kindness and compassion.
I suspect there will be many more pearls of wisdom as the conference progresses. I hope to keep you informed.