2022-04-18 Satipaṭṭhāna (57) Mindfulness as Effortless Awareness
4:45PM Apr 18, 2022
Good morning, everyone. This is the beginning of the week on the second to last exercise in the Buddha's discourse on establishing awareness. And it is the seven factors of awakening. There is nothing in this exercise that talks about making these factors arise. It is more recognizing they are there, and then maintaining them.
The seven begin with mindfulness. Usually, a second one is called investigation, and tomorrow we will talk about it some. Mindfulness, investigation, effort, joy, tranquility, concentration, and equanimity. These are considered to be the crown jewel of Buddhist practice, sometimes, because they come when practice begins to mature and develop, when there starts to be an inner momentum or naturalness of the qualities of the practice living in us, coming forth, and flowing through us in a certain way.
This is not an easy thing to experience. For beginners, it is not so easy. Sometimes it takes a long time of practice for these things to begin to get awakened. As they become awake, they are present, and they support us. Remember, this is the second to last exercise. It is the twelfth exercise of thirteen exercises in this discourse.
I like to understand that the others provide the foundation, building momentum, developing, learning how to be mindful in the body, in feelings, and in the mind. As that learning happens, and as the muscle of attention becomes stronger – the muscle of being in the present moment becomes stronger, then we find for ourselves that these things begin to arise.
The first one that arises – or the first one that is talked about, is sati, or mindfulness itself. As I said, the text does not say: Now practice mindfulness. Now, apply yourself more to being mindful. It says: Notice that there is mindfulness there. So the question is, what is mindfulness here?
I prefer to translate the word "sati" as "awareness." What we are doing is establishing awareness. We are abiding in it. We are dwelling in it. We are not 'doing' awareness. Nowhere in the Buddha's teachings, does the Buddha say: Do awareness. Awareness itself is not a verb, something that we actively do. But something that we establish or allow for, something we abide in. That is in the very beginning of the text, if you remember. It talks about abiding, observing the four foundations. There is this idea of abiding in something, knowing it is there in a very simple way.
In the last meditation, I talked about the effortless quality of attention. There is certainly attention that can take effort. And sometimes that is useful to apply. But sometimes there is a kind of effort that is effortless. If you are just minding your own business and, suddenly, a loud bird nearby whistles, the first hearing of that bird appears without any effort on your part.
If I was sitting outside and, just as I was saying this, I felt coldness going through my thighs, that cold feeling was effortless. It appeared – the knowing of it. It was just there. It called attention to itself and my mind knew it. I was pretty equanimous and content to be here, and it was not a problem to just know it.
So begin appreciating, as practice deepens – in certain moments of meditation practice or other times – as it continues and matures, there will be times when we can tune into this effortless quality of attention. It might take some gentle effort to let go enough to allow that to be there. But with time, it becomes the backdrop. It becomes a foundation. It becomes the support for how we go through our lives.
This is because there is a constant awareness of present moment experience as we live it. We do not get lost in our thoughts. We do not get lost in conversations. We do not get lost in the work we are doing. We can do it wholeheartedly. But there is a sense, a feeling, a knowing, that seems almost effortless. "Oh. I'm here. This is where I'm present." It is almost like being present for, a feeling of presence. Some people might say, "ever-present presence," or "ever-present awareness attention."
Why this is useful, as we develop awareness, is that it is an awareness that does not automatically come with attachment, with greed or clinging, with ill will, with aversion, with pushing things away. Things are just allowed to be there without us being for or against them. We do not have to accept them. And we do not have to condone them. We do not have to criticize them. Awareness, in and of itself, is not involved in being for or against. It is not involved with needing to accept, or needing to reject. It is just there with the experience.
To practice acceptance is an extra step. Allowing things to appear in the mind effortlessly might be evaluated –thought of – as a kind of acceptance practice, but there is no acceptance being done. It is just, things arise in awareness. And here we are.
To do that with breathing at the same time, is part of the art of this. It is possible to do. And, if I can within the format of the video, I would like to show you something. This finger of mine is my breathing – breathing in and breathing out – and my other hand is my mind. One way of being aware of it is focusing on the breathing, really being there with it. The mind really closes down, focuses, and it gets kind of tight. It bears down. It focuses on it. All together this way. Now, that is fine. It can be done. It is possible to get very focused and concentrated this way. That is kind of nice.
Another way is not to make any effort in the mind like that. Keep the mind relaxed, open, soft and available. Now I am sitting outside. When I do that I start feeling the wind on the palm of my hand, the back of my hand, the cold in different places. It is kind of nice.
Then, gently, I bring these two together. This is the breathing. The open hand is the awareness. And I bring them together so that the breathing (the finger) and the softest part of the hand – the most sensitive part of the hand (awareness) – are in touch with each other. Now I am intimately feeling the breathing. The world around me begins to fall away, disappear, recede, because the breathing becomes the only thing I am aware of.
But the breathing is known effortlessly. The coming and going, the rhythm, the different sensations are known effortlessly. There might be a tendency to want to do something again – like to stay there and to not lose it. And the mind begins to tighten up again and hold on. But the idea here, when you come to this part of the seven factors of awakening, is for sati – awareness, to be less and less work, and more and more resting and abiding in awareness. Then, in that abiding, let things be known effortlessly.
If there is any work at this stage of practice, it is to remember to do this. Remember to do this. Because it is not easy to be this way – there has to be some momentum in the mind – do not try to do it if it is not easy. Rather, be very content, even to go back to the very beginning of satipaṭṭhāna. Go back, just to the simplicity of practicing breath meditation.
The first four steps of this whole enterprise of satipaṭṭhāna, is to really experience, know your breathing, and recognize the experiences of breathing. That takes a little bit more effort. Then, as you know it, know and recognize your whole body. Then, relax your body. That is how it begins. You can always go back to do that. That is a fantastic practice in its own right. And it leads to where we are going here, with the seven factors of awakening.
So if you are not there yet in the seven factors, do not worry about it. It is not important for you then. But as the momentum builds, you will see that there will be a kind of effortless awareness arising that can hold things peacefully, openly, and clearly. This is a gift. This is one of the great gifts of practice. It sets the stage for the other seven factors of awakening.
Tomorrow, I will talk about investigation. That sounds like a lot of work. But it is also meant to have an effortless quality to it. How that will work is what we will talk about. Thank you. I delight in being here outdoors at Spirit Rock doing this with all of you.
I see there is a note in the chat about having an interactive session at end of this week. It is possible that we can do that. I will look at my calendar and see. I am here at Spirit Rock through Wednesday. So, tomorrow and the next day, we will do it this way, in these rolling hills of Marin County. Then, on Thursday and Friday, I will be back at IMC. Thank you all very much. I look forward to being here with you tomorrow.