2020-09-18: Mindfulness of the Body (5 of 5) Concluding Instruction
3:11PM Sep 18, 2020
Today brings to conclusion the week on mindfulness of the body. It also brings to a certain conclusion the last four weeks where there was teachings and instructions on the four foundational areas that I often use to teach mindfulness practice - mindfulness of breathing, mindfulness of thinking, mindfulness of emotions, and this week mindfulness of the body. I usually teach them in a different order - breath, body, emotions, and then thinking. But the idea is to have a sense of how to be mindful of all these different areas. Then at some point, the basic practice that I like to teach, how I like to teach "Vipassanā," is that a lot of it is focused on breathing. Breathing is the home, the default, the center of gravity, the anchor to the present moment. The breathing is so deeply connected to all the other aspects of our life that it's a wonderful place to practice because of the influence it has on everywhere else.
But if anything else arises that's more compelling than breathing, then either let go of the breathing and focus on the mindfulness in that area - physically what's happening in the body, emotionally, in thinking, or in the mind. Or don't let go of the breathing, but let the breathing help you accompany this other thing that's more compelling. Breathe through it, breathe with it, so that the stabilizing force of breathing continues. But you're also attending to whatever else is really compelling or predominant in the experience.
As practice deepens, as the mindfulness gets calmer and more settled, the tendency is that the places that predominate that are not the breathing are slowly working through some of the kinks, some of the wrinkles in some of the places of holding or contraction that we have in our psychophysical system. As we bring our attention to them, unless it's just pure, straight physical pain, but if it's mild pain even, there's a way that we're smoothing out the wrinkles. We're settling the agitation. We are letting go of any clinging, holding, and contraction that's around this place. Slowly there's more and more this freeing, loosening, opening up into more clarity and spaciousness in experience.
One of the places where this kind of holding pattern or contraction becomes evident at some point is the separation between the mind and the body that some people have. Some people live their life above the neck really. A lot of it's we say in English "in the head" usually it means that a lot of time thinking, analyzing, planning, and fantasizing. We're swirling around in this two-dimensional world of just thoughts, ideas, and stories.
The three-dimensional world is to open up from the whole body as part of it all, and have the field of relaxation, letting go, ease spread outward in all directions. So to feel the separation, to bring that attention to that place of separation or where the coagulation of around the mind or thinking and have that also begin to loosen, soften, and relax. So at some point, there's no real divide between the mind and the body. You can identify them as being somewhat separate, but they're not really this. They're coterminous. They're all kind of encompassing in the same field of clarity, ease, peace.
It's a process of letting go, relaxing, opening up, being receptive that expands and expands to everything's included. How we start with the breathing and then move to what's predominant. Different predominant things will then appear. It's kind of random seemingly. But as practice deepens, I don't think it's particularly random. We're going through layers of our being, layers of where our coagulation is, or our congestion is, or where we're stuck, where there's a resistance, where there's holding patterns. We're going through it whatever is predominant, the layers. One day it might be in the chest. Another day it might be the head or the shoulders. It might be certain emotions that come up or certain cognitive things, ideas, stories, memories.
I like to think that the Dharma knows best what's next for us. As we sit, focus, and settle, whatever arises next is kind of like the Dharma knows or the inner life knows. "Okay, now it's time to be present for that, learn to find our freedom with that, not be caught by this, and learn to settle with this as well."
Sometimes we find that as we relax, there's a big letting go or a real deep, quantum deepening of letting go, relaxing, settling, or concentrating. It can feel quite nice. It's followed by a period of a little more difficulty or sometimes a lot of difficulty. Not that we're going backwards, but rather as we go down, we kind of take care of one floor in the building in a sense. Then we're ready to go down to the next one and the next floor turns out hasn't been cleaned for decades. Now we have to deal with all the mess that's there. Once that's done, then we maybe feel more settled and we can go further and deeper. Maybe it's feelings of great love or compassion and that's the next layer or maybe it's a layer of fear. Or maybe who knows what's there.
I like to think of it if the practice is sincere, then the Dharma knows what to bring you next. This attitude that the Dharma knows or the inner life, the heart knows what's next is a nice way of relaxing around resisting or being bothered, troubled by what comes up for us, what surfaces, what's next, what's goes on in our lives.
There's kind of an acceptance that "This too I get to practice with" instead of "Not this, please." Or "I'm doing it wrong." "No, I'm doing it right because now this is coming up and now I get to be with that. Then this."
This ability to just be with things as they are and accept them as the field, the domain of practice that we practice with. It's not a generic or naive kind of acceptance of things. But it is an acceptance where we're not in conflict or we don't resist it as being the appropriate domain for practice. It's a powerful thing to learn how to be willing, open, and receptive to practice with anything that comes our way rather than resisting, being upset or collapsing. To develop confidence and trust in the power of mindfulness, the power of practice. "Oh, this too I can step towards in a certain way, to step towards or turn towards, to be mindful of, be present for, to experience."
Then we can go through these four different areas. In this particular thing that's happening now, what's happening with the breathing? How is breathing going on? What's happening in the body? What are the physical experiences, sensations that come along? Where am I tight, holding, resisting, pulling back, leaning forward? What's happening with the body? What's happening emotionally? What emotions are predominant? What emotions are moving through me? What emotions are motivating me and prompting me to do something - attack, run away, soothe, comfort? What's going on? Then to know what's happening with the mind - our thoughts, beliefs, cognitions, the movements of the mind, the contractions of the mind.
We have these tools to be with what is and to practice with it, so that we can find our freedom in the middle of it. As we have our freedom, then we hopefully have more wisdom about how to act, what to say, what to do, what to feel, what to intend, how to be with the situation, to take care of ourselves and take care of the world itself.
The culmination I feel of this practice is to really have in one's heart no resistance, no divide between the welfare of others and the welfare of oneself. So that we're certainly caring for ourselves and helping ourselves be safe, healthy, and really allowing ourselves to thrive. We're important and we're not holding on to self, holding ourselves separate from people, conceited, or attached to our own welfare only.
But we're also concerned for the welfare of others equally. There's a freedom, an ease in that care. It's not obligatory. It's not like we have to push against great odds. It's just that the simplicity of the heart that is free and relaxed. Of course, it wants to care and be for the welfare of others. Others are very much like ourselves in some of the deep ways, and the possibility of peace, love and respect.
To really understand that this practice is leading us to live in the world concerned, not effortlessly, but naturally almost, for the welfare and happiness of all beings everywhere. It's almost as if the welfare of others is our own welfare, and the welfare of ourselves is the welfare of others. We live in a world of caring for each other.
I hope these weeks of mindfulness, the basic teachings, has given you a little different take on how it's usually taught, added to it, supplemented it or deepened it in some way, and supported you. It's possible we'll continue with some aspect of this next week. Maybe it's postgraduate mindfulness next week after the graduating from these four weeks. Something like that.
So thank you very much for being part of this. I appreciate it very much, and I look forward to our time on Monday.