Monday, January 23, 2017

Bare attention and clear comprehension

bare attention and clear comprehension

Here are two key cconcepts that you might like to immerse yourself in once you've been meditating for a while. It's a way of breaking down mindfulness a little bit and is onward leading.

Firstly, we might ask ourselves: what is mindfulness?

There are lots of mindfulness experts out there nowadays who could help with this but generally speaking it is: paying attention to something without effort. You could call this bare attention or choiceless awareness or open awareness. We hear a sound, a sound is heard - it takes no effort. It arises and passes away.

Bare attention is a skill that requires practice. The more we practice, the easier it becomes to stay with bare attention. If we do lots of body scans the mind will relax and this will happen naturally: we fall into a state of: in one ear and out of the other.

So, let's say we have been sitting in a state of bare attention for 10 minutes or so - it's pretty cool, relaxing, and we're grooving along quite nicely in a state of empty awareness. This is all well and good but we need to interact with the world: we need to act. Now, mindfulnes of action is clear comprehension. I need to move, I'm going to move, now I'm moving. A LOT of stuff happens when you want to lift a finger - it's easier to see if you have been doing nothing for a bit and then you attempt to move your finger. There is the intention to move and the actual moving. Notice the magical 'about to' moment. It's huge!!!! Once you have a grip on this, you will open up a vast area of of investigation which could go on forever but mainly: everything you do is managed by the mind.

That's probably enough for now. Clear comprehension is onward leading and has many facets to it: application of wisdom to actions and maintaining awareness as you go about your business and merging it with the truth about reality. That's for another time. For the purpose of this exercise, tune into mindfulness: bare attention and then clear comprehension. These skills are highly advantageous to mind explorer.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Ground yourself

I'm currently going through lots of somatic exercises to establish a few concepts in the mind that will prove useful later on (namely: mindfulness, dispassion, calm, tranquility, investigation, impermanence, self awareness and joy). These seeds will grow slowly until they flesh out your awareness of your enitre human experience - this is quite helpful in becoming a delightful person (well, in your own mind anyway).

This technique is called grounding and useful bridge between your actual mind and the ideas the mind creates - keep an eye out for that.

Grounding is a very good way of diverting attention out of your self centered thoughts into a more neutral place. This gives us a breathing space from the seemingly endless nonsense that goes through our everyday mind - usually a combination of me, me, me thinking and how to avoid unpleasantness.

Anyway, grounding is a fairly easy concept to grasp. We place our attention in our feet and we imagine ourselves breathing down into the feet and back out again. Once we get good at this, then we can move the attention into our hands or legs, and finally into the rising and falling of our bellies. It is important to avoid the heart and mind area as this will lead you back into your familiar thought patterns or older, more deep seated mental knots. If you want to be guided through this process then look for a guided bodyscan meditation - I have one on my blog.

The next step is to feel the physical contact of your body with the seat or floor. Feel the contact points and notice how your body has substance that is pressing against another subtance. (In Buddhism, this is contemplating the earth element). Dwell in your physicality, feel the matter in your body.

I will explore the four elements in more detail later on - or you can jump right in by looking it up yourself. Don't dismiss it as alchemical nonsense - that is not the point.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Your body holds your mind

Sometimes it's nice to imagine different ways of being in the body and allowing grounding to happen naturally.

- Imagine the body holding the mind. It's a container and the mind is the contents bubbling around inside.
- They interact with each other, one effecting the other.
- Hot mind, hot body. Calm body, calm mind.

Then it's possible to go one step further - imagine the body container emptying; an empty body containing space. Then it's nice to try and hold it there.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Mindfulness of the body parts

By now I am practicing with the body every day. I like a bit of variety to keep my interest from waning. Here is a run through of what I do with the body parts - doing this meditation creates a kind of dispassion towards your body and other peoples bodies. This helps us have a more positive view towards who we are and what we need to do to keep ourselves fit and healthy. 

- Remind myself that mindfulness is a relaxed, attentive awareness.

- Start with awareness of the body. Noticing my body sitting and breathing.

- Do an accelerated full body relaxation

- Obviously, being preoccupied, my mind wanders off during the relaxation part. I bring it back gently when it wanders off. Bringing it back is exercising my ability to bring it back, so it's all good. I enjoy the effort of getting lost and coming back.

- Establish a sense of clarity somewhere in my body mind complex. Anything will do, as long as it's not related to contracted thinking.

- Now, start with mindfulness of the body in earnest. Traditionally you're supposed to do 32 parts of the body but that takes a while, so I go for the major areas. I start with my bones, feel the skeleton inside. There's a sense of life in the bones. I feel them supporting me. They are me and not me at the same time.

- I shift attention to the skull. The skull is solid and I'm aware of the tension in the muscles stretching over the skull. I relax any tension I find - quite often this takes a while. I may consciously relax all the muslces in my whole body while I'm paying attention the muscular part of the head.

- I then notice the teeth - the space they occupy in the mouth and any tension in there - perhaps coming from the cheeks, eyes and jaw. I notice the saliva in the mouth, the wetness.

- I then become aware of all the fluids in the body; the blood pumping round, the liquid nature of the organs.

- I then notice the air coming into the lungs and the pressure in the belly. If I've eaten something I may notice the sense of fullness and the effort of the guts digesting. I may notice the heart beating.

- Then I switch to noticing the sensations of the whole body living, breathing, digesting. There's a flux of sensations running through my nervous system - a sophisticated organism doing it's work of living. I stay with this flux for a while. There's is nothing for me to do here except observe the changing nature of the physicality of the body.

- Then it's usually time to stop.

It gets a bit visceral but there's something about it.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The four foundations of mindfulness

It's always nice to attempt to explain something, or kind of reimagine it so we think we understand it, so I'm going to take a sideways leap away from body mindfulness to look at the four foundations of mindfulness in brief - we're not going to address nitty gritty, just the broad details. This will help inform us (mainly me) on my journey through various stages of ectasy and despair on to somewhere a bit more satisying. The satipatthana suti is like the source code of meditation. It is a remarkable framework to refer back to and an astonishing achievement.

(Maps and guides are useful things and the satipatthana sutta is an amazingly compact guide to mindfulness practice. It's also fairly impenetrable to the uninitiated which is a good thing because it takes effort and patience to understand what is going on - it took me years.)

Enough preamble, on with the post.

There are four foundations of mindfulness: the body, vedana (the feeling of pleasant/unpleasant), the state of mind, and mind objects. They kind of lead from one to the next in increasing levels of complexity while constantly informing wisdom into the meditator.

It begins with the body:
 - the physicality of breathing.
 - establish bare attention and clear comprehension
 - awareness of its true nature (its functions).
 - the cultivation of dispassion towards it.
 - how the body is known in the mind.

This leads on to vedana:
 - pleasant / unpleasant sensations arising from the body .
 - pleasant / unpleasant sensations arising from the practice (other worldly).

[Pause. At this point, we know the body and feelings of pleasantness. These are fairly straightforward to understand. We might like to notice reactiivty in relation to these things and how we are led into the mind.]


This leads us into the third foundation - mind states - citta or consciousness or heart mind. I found this quite tricky as the mind knowing the mind is quite subtle and, in some way, the state of our mind is mostly transparent to us. Anyway:
 -  we get to know the atmosphere of the mind, the sense of its agitation or lack of.
 - we understand the state of mind, like the weather.
 - to make progress on this, we need to experience the range of mind states referred to in the sutta (over and over again).
 - this area of the mind I call the Beethoven mind - his music seems to capture moods quite well.

Now we know the general state of the mind but we have not seen into it's functioning. This is covered in the fourth foundation:
 - how the mind becomes distracted.
 - how the mind creates a sense of self.
 - the arising of consciousness from sensory experience.
 - the natural movement of the mind towards equanimity.
 - the ripening awareness of the three characteristics, dispassion and the path towards cessation
 - the culmination of wisdom in the four noble truths

The aim of this sutta is to leave nothing out. There is nothing we will ever know that is not covered here, which is quite remarkable when you think about it  - yes, even that thought is covered in the sutta.

Now, I realise that this is not for everyone so the take home message would be: you have a body, you experience pleasant stuff, you want more without knowing why, and then you realise that every moment you know is a perfect construction of the multi-faceted mind that is inextricably linked with everything. Job done.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Thoughts have a direct effect on the body - try it now

The mind and body are bound together like flour and butter in a bechemel sauce. If you don't believe it then read on.

Here's a quick story you might like to read:

It's a Sunday morning and you're scheduled to visit your parents who live a 30 minute drive away down a major road. They wanted you to be there for 12 at the latest but there was problem getting the kids ready and it's already 11.50. Anyway, getting the children into the car is like trying to catch a bar of soap in the bath, and you finally set off at 12. Although it doesn't matter that you're late there's a sense that you need to get on with it so you drive faster than you normally would. You get on the main road and put your foot down. Everyone in the car senses the tension but you're locked in to the urge to get moving. You pass under a bridge and as you look in the rear view mirror you see a police car parked above with a man holding a speed gun. You check your speed but it's too late, you know you've been caught.

Notice how your body is feeling. Perhaps you feel slightly tense. Perhaps you're holding your breath a little more than you should be doing.

Here's another story:

It's a Sunday morning and you wake up to a beautiful blue sky and a song thrush sitting on a fence at the bottom of the garden. There's nothing much to do and the beach is only 30 minutes drive away. You pack the children into the car for a surprise day out and everyone is excited and smiling. You put on your sunglasses and take a relaxing drive to the beach with some music playing that everyone seems to enjoy. It's a secluded beach and there are only a few people there. You set up on the warm sand and spend the rest of the day relaxing. Irritating things happen but it's no big deal; the sun is shining and the ocean is a shimmering blue. You go for a swim, you play games, you have a picnic. It's just nice to spend a day winding down in the warm sunshine.

Perhaps you feel slightly different. The interesting thing here is how immediate the effect is of thoughts on the body (and that's just through reading a story). So now we ask ourselves, what do we fill our minds with day after day - beach thoughts or dread thoughts? Then we might ask, what can we do about it? What are you thinking about right now? Is it good? I hope so.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Body scan meditation

Mindfulness of the body is the first of the four foundations of mindfulness. It is an excellent way to learn how to meditate as it cultivates right mindfulness and can cultivate states of concentration.

A while back I did my own body scan meditation. I heartily recommend it - it is brilliant, an outstanding effort.

Open a window into mindfulness through the body. Once you get into this, the rest of the path falls into place.