2022-01-21 Satipaṭṭhāna (14) Lucid Awareness and Non-clinging
3:50PM Jan 21, 2022
The last step of the refrain of the Satipaṭṭhāna is: "One abides, mindful that there is a body, just to the extent necessary for knowledge and lucid awareness. Dwelling independent, not clinging to anything in the world." One "abides" – again this is a very important word. One rests, one allows. Abiding is not a lot of work.
Mindfulness has now transitioned from whatever directedness, whatever efforts were needed to show up and be present, to allowing oneself just to be present. It is more like being, rather than doing. One abides in awareness of a very simple recognition – there is a body. It is very simple – no judgment, no complications, no analysis. It does not have to be different in any way.
It is a simple recognition, just to the extent necessary. I love this expression, "just to the extent necessary." We are not looking for a super high standard, to do the absolute best we can, but just to the extent necessary. "Awareness is established just to the extent necessary for there to be knowledge." Very simple knowing that is not work. It is not like actively knowing. Just knowing, for example, there is a body. Knowing that we are independent – not dependent on anything. Knowing that we are not clinging to anything.
"To the extent there is knowledge and lucid awareness." The phrase "lucid awareness" in Pali has the word "sati" in it – the word that is often translated as "mindfulness." It has a prefix "paṭi." So, "paṭissati." It is a reflexive preflx, meaning reflecting back on oneself. It is awareness that is aware of itself. I translate this as "lucid awareness." "Lucid" because we know we are aware in a lucid, clear way.
The practice leads us to a place where there is simple, abiding in awareness, which is lucid, and able to know things very simply. That sets the stage for moving into the freedom of not being dependent on anything in the world – not clinging to anything in the world.
Not that we do not depend on, for example, shopkeepers having food so we can live – but rather that awareness, the mind, the heart is at rest in itself. The mind and heart do not need anything to rest in a peaceful place.
This last phrase, "Not depending on anything, not clinging to anything in the world," is one way of describing nibbāna, the full realization of practice. You do not expect to sit down and do that quickly, but it is something that grows over time. The idea of this practice growing over time is inherent in the whole way in which Satipaṭṭhāna is laid out. We are describing a path, a process.
Having a sense that there is an onward leading movement, slowly over time. Not an onward leading movement that is linear, where you can expect to steadily make progress. It is more like up and down, back and forth. Our lives are so complicated, the states of mind so different at different times. But slowly over time, we are moving in one direction – towards freedom.
There is a process, a path, a journey that unfolds over time. We do not want to get tripped up with that – caught up in striving, comparing ourself, and wanting to be further than we are.
One of the principles I love is the principle, "To go from A to B, be fully at A." For the purpose of mindfulness practice, if you want to go somewhere in your practice – do not worry about getting anywhere with the practice. Just focus on being fully present for what is. The practice of being fully present for what is, is what is onward leading. It will unfold the way it is supposed to unfold. Our dedication is not to making progress, but rather to showing up, and being fully present here. The progress takes care of itself.
To summarize, or to repeat what I have said already – to get a sense of the journey described so far – the Buddha talks about a path to liberation, to nibbāna. And what is that? It is: "Observing the body in the body. Ardent, aware and clearly comprehending. Having put aside grief and covetousness for the world." That is a high standard – to have put aside covetousness and grief or distress for the world.
Then asks, "Well, how do you do that?" How do you practice this "observing the body in terms of the body?" You sit down to meditate; sit upright and you establish awareness. With awareness established, you use that first to become aware of your breathing. Because the mind so easily wanders off, the tether to the present moment is knowing – knowing the breath.
Some people will use a practice of knowing with a mental noting. As they feel the breathing, they say "in / out." Or, "Rising of the belly. Falling of the belly." Or chest. That mental note is a way of being slightly emphatic with the knowing of the breathing, as you know it, as a tether to the present moment.
As that practice deepens, we become aware of our body. We become aware of the whole body at some point. Then the onward leading movement goes towards relaxing the body. This part of the process can be repeated over and over again, for a long time, getting used to it – knowing, feeling and relaxing. Some days, one is emphasized more than the other. Sometimes we stay at step one, and barely stay there, because the mind is so busy.
Wherever you are, just be fully at A. Practice with what you have. That is what is onward leading. Practice where you are, not where you think you should be.
As we settle and there is more tranquility, we settle into that tranquility. Then we observe. We enter the phase of practice where there is observation – watching – a nonreactive, noninterfering perceiving of experience.
We experience it internally and externally. One way of understanding that is that awareness is now open 360 degrees. We are aware of the body, the full body, in a simple, relaxed way. As we settle into that further, then we abide with awareness that begins tuning into the changing nature, the flow of change, the inconstancy of experience. With the inconstancy of change, things coming and going, it becomes clear after a while, that it does not make any sense to cling to anything, hold on to anything, or resist anything, because everything is flowing.
If anything, it is like we surrender to a sense of flow in the body of everything arising and passing, everything moving. We see so clearly that when we get involved in thoughts and concepts, that we start solidifying our experience again. So then we dip back down into the flow of the river of life, flowing through us, with all experience.
Because we are not clinging, at some point, what happens next is that we are just there, present in the simplest possible way, with lucid awareness. Awareness becomes freed from how it gets agitated, contracted, or cloudy with concepts, clinging, wanting, not wanting. It is just lucid awareness – lucid consciousness that is not working to be mindful, not working to do anything. It is more like something we abide in – we rest in – we allow. That very still, quiet mind – where we just allow things to be, where we are not for or against anything – is very equanimous.
That allows for an even deeper letting go. In that state, it is clear that our hearts, our minds, no longer depend for their well-being on anything at all. They are self contained or self existing with a sense of well-being and freedom that does not depend on anything at all.
"Not clinging to anything in the world." To have that experience as a reference point for what is possible brings a lot of wisdom and inspiration. Probably you will cling again. Probably you will have a sense of depending on things again, but you will understand that there is a different perspective now, a different way of being. Hopefully you will hold your clinging, your feeling of dependence, much more lightly. You have a sense that the practice is moving beyond it, to be free of all that.
This is a journey. Now we have done the first exercise of the Satipaṭṭhāna, gone through the breathing, and into the refrain. There are 12 more exercises, each with the same refrain that we just went through.
On Monday, I will start with the second exercise, contextualizing a little bit. We will never lose track of the breathing. The guided meditations will often come back to the breathing, which is like the anchor or the foundation that supports this journey, I hope. But the other practices are also relevant. If some of you do not care for focusing on breathing, at some point these other exercises might be more meaningful for you.
Thank you. When we continue on Monday, I will be back at IRC, the Insight Retreat Center. I am teaching a retreat next week. I will be broadcasting from the meditation hall there, so you will see I am in a different location. Thank you all.