2021-02-16 Gil Mindfulness of Breathing (33) Establishing Awareness
6:14PM Feb 16, 2021
In the overall series on mindfulness of breathing, we're halfway through the sixteen steps. We're taking this week to review, and begin over again in a certain way. We're not really starting over completely. In meditation, it's often useful to think that we're always beginning over.
Often, our lives have ups and downs. We've been active in our life. Then we sit down to meditate, and seldom we just drop into the depths where we were before. But rather, it's always a way of beginning over. Learning how to be a beginner, and engage in a way that is harmonious with meditation, or that supports the enjoyable settling-in is part of this art. Not to be in a hurry or striving, but diligent and wholehearted, showing up in a way that, "Ah, this is really good to be here."
In the Buddha's instructions, the preparation for the first step is to establish mindfulness, this idea of establishing awareness. I like the expression 'awareness', meaning "establishing attention" here. I've asked a number of people how they understand this idea of establishing awareness. Many people respond that for them, it means to allow for and enable it. Awareness or attention is a capacity that is operating in all our conscious moments. To establish this is to open up more fully to what's already here and center oneself in that awareness; to be rooted in the present. Some scholars have said that the Pali word for 'establish' could also mean to stand next to or stand close to. It means to really accompany something, and links to this idea of having awareness established as though it's truly rooted here in the present moment.
To accomplish this a fair amount of what we have to do is to let go of the ways that thinking preoccupies us so much that we don't even know we're aware. We get pulled into the drama, stories and concerns. There's something about letting go of the storylines, thoughts, ideas, and preoccupations, that we're clearly cognizant that: "I'm here in the present moment." Something as simple as: "I'm here in this body, I'm here in this place," begins to establish.
The question is: what does it mean for you to establish yourself here in awareness, in attention in a way that's wholesome, finding a place that's healthy, helpful, or even healing. A way of really being here in the midst of what's going on.
It might be that there's a lot of emotional turmoil, difficulty, physical pain, or ongoing challenges around in the environment. If it's appropriate to be meditating, what does it mean to establish yourself peacefully?
Another way of expressing this is the idea of sitting and practicing without being in conflict with anything. What does it mean to sit here without conflict? So we look around and see where is there conflict, "Where am I caught up in responsibilities or desires, or resentments, and what are these?" Not necessarily to let go of them if it's not easy. But what is it like to be sitting in the middle of it, established? This image of sitting in the middle, and just being present for the experience.
I think I've said this recently, when my son went into kindergarten. He was young, perhaps four and a half. He went to kindergarten, and the first month or two, he would find a small little kid's chair, and place it right in the middle of where all the kids were playing in the classroom. He would just sit there, and watch everything going on. It was only after a couple of months that he left his chair, and started interacting and playing with the other kids. No one ever felt that he was troubled, upset, or afraid. That's just what he did. He just sat right there, confidently in the middle, and took in this whole new environment. He established himself in the chaotic room full of kids playing and running around. To establish oneself is to root oneself here.
I know some teachers who have emphasized that simply having two feet rooted firmly on the ground, or on the cushion meditating with your butt firmly on the seat. That's really where the heart of it is – really established here.
I had one teacher who gave us a wonderful teaching, that a successful period of meditation – because the mind can sometimes be so wild and agitated – that the definition of a successful period of meditation is that we did not leave our seat. He elaborated that it's like the rodeo, but you stay in your seat, stay in the saddle. The reason he called it a success is that we don't give in to it. We don't give up because of it.
Sometimes it's just simply hanging in there and staying. It doesn't look like it's a wonderful meditative experience, but we're cultivating a lot of strength, stability and the ability to keep our seats, to hold our ground, "I'm staying here."
What's the nature of how we establish and practice awareness and attention? This took me a long time to understand for myself because I sometimes had a lot of agendas when I was practicing. Sometimes I had the agenda to get concentrated. I was pushing, straining, and trying my best. Then judging and comparing myself when I was meditating in a room with other people. Part of me was comparing myself with others, trying to catch up, or to be as concentrated or mindful as they. All this swirl of comparative mind, needing to accomplish something, like proving myself.
Then there was the attitude of not liking what I saw in myself, and being upset with this and that. Then the mindfulness then had a sting to it. It wasn't just being mindful of something, there were little barbs, like poking at or criticizing myself – together with being mindful.
Slowly I learned to simplify the awareness, without all this extra stuff that we bring along. So much so that some people would say that the whole process of meditation, the 16 steps of ānāpānasati, is a process of simplifying awareness. So it comes into its pristine purity or simplicity – just aware. To see clearly without the seeing having any filters or obstructions.
Just to see. And to trust that this is enough. This is supported by the idea that the actions of how we take care of things will come later. We're learning this ability to see in this clear, simple way. That allows us to see better what can be done, what should or can be said. There's more wisdom that way. This is a quest for simple, tranquil awareness, which is committed, established, and just stays here with the experience.
Maybe it's inspiring for you to remember the little saying that if you want the wisdom of how to live in this world – become tranquil. Have your awareness established in its simplicity, and learn how to be content with that. That's enough. For now, it's just enough to sit here and be present. Later can come the action, the response. So, establishing awareness.
Let's all of us continue with our awareness practice. Thank you.