2022-01-24 Satipaṭṭhāna (15) Mindfulness of Posture
4:55PM Jan 24, 2022
Today, I begin the next exercise in the discourse on the four foundations for mindfulness, for awareness. It follows the same pattern as the first one. It is going to describe another way of observing the body in terms of the body. "Ardent, aware, clearly comprehending, having put aside greed and distress for the world."
This is a relatively mature mindfulness state to be in – to be able to observe the simplicity of the body in regard to the body, ardent, clearly comprehending, and aware, having put aside greed and distress for the world. Some people practice mindfulness so they can not be caught in greed and distress. But that can happen. When it happens, then the practice can go from there. That is a little bit the goal and these 13 exercises are the means.
That is why I translate this text, the four foundations 'for' mindfulness. Classically, it is called 'of' mindfulness. Its purpose is for developing this clear awareness, which I call mindfulness. How do we do that? We can also do this with a second exercise. If you do the second exercise well, that becomes a platform, a foundation from which to go through the steps of the refrain: to have awareness that is open to both external and internal; to have the ability to see the inconstant nature of the experience; and with the help of that inconstancy – the impermanent nature of phenomena – to abide in very simple, lucid awareness, where there is no greed, no clinging to anything at all. This is the pattern.
The second exercise is very simple. Because it is so simple, it is easy to overlook. You understand it immediately, and you might feel like you are ready to move on to the next thing. It is just four or five lines and you are done.
It goes this way: "When standing, one knows one is standing. When walking, one knows one is walking. When sitting, one knows one is sitting. When lying down, one knows one is lying down. Whatever posture the body is in, one knows that."
It is so deceptively simple. Just to know you are standing when you are standing. Okay, you can do that in a moment and then you are ready to do more important things. But here we are talking about to really know. It is pajānāti in Pali, to know. This is the important verb or activity that goes through many of the Satipaṭṭhāna exercises.
There are different instructions of what to do – the verb of what we are supposed to actually do here. But the most common one is to know. There are a few things that make this exercise really rich. One is, in fact, the emphasis on knowing – the idea of clearly recognizing what is happening when it is happening, in its simplicity. The most simple aspect of our experience in the moment, independent of any relationship to anything else.
At the moment, I am feeling comfortable, but a little bit cool. The windows are open here in this room. It is a bit cold outside, so I feel cool. I know that I am cold. I could add on top of that: "Why is it cold in the room? Maybe the windows are too open. I wonder how long the windows have been open? How long should I sit here being cold? Maybe I will get chilled if I stay here too long."
All that commentary, which might be reasonable in some circumstances, takes us away from the most simple, relaxed, present moment awareness of the simplicity of feeling a little cool. Feeling coolness. Feeling it as if it deserves to be respected for what it is, in and of itself. In a sense it can also be seen as a message to which I should pay attention if it were really cold. But it is worthy of knowing for itself.
What we are doing here in mindfulness practice, is going in a different direction than the mind usually goes. All those concerns I have (Why are the windows open? How long can I sit here?) – imagine those are the horizontal plane of life. Vipassana mindfulness is the vertical dimension in a sense, which allows us to penetrate and go deep. The simplicity of just knowing something like cold, in and of itself, is a doorway to a deeper entry into that experience. To really penetrate and see deeply into the experience, until we start seeing something that is liberating, freeing in that experience.
The idea is to really be there with that. When I use the phrase "really being there," I can imagine some people steel themselves and are going to try hard. But this is meant to be very trusting, simple, relaxed knowing. To know, when you are walking that you are walking, means that you are not distracted. You are not thinking about all kinds of issues in your life, problems you have, or wonderful things. The mind thinking is fine. But there is something wondrous when we are really simple and just know, "I am walking."
In the horizontal mind, which has many concerns and interests, that can get boring very quickly. But in the vertical mind, which can go really deep, it opens up to something special. The first time I experienced that in my life in some palpable strong way, I was about 20, 21, and lived alone for a week on a farm. I had never been alone for that long. I did not talk to anyone for the week, or see anyone really. I was not meditating.
But as the days went along, everything started to glisten. Everything started to have clarity. I would see an object and it was like it was shining. If I had a thought, it was a wonder to see a thought arise. There was clarity I had never experienced before. It did not matter what I was thinking. It was just clear thinking. There was all this space, stillness, and quiet around which I could simply know each thing.
This was life changing for me. It is one of the conditions that probably led to me being here and teaching. Appreciating and valuing this intimacy, clarity, simplicity, brightness, and vibrancy of just being present in the moment for this little thing – and knowing it. That felt deep.
To know you are walking as you walk. To know you are standing as you stand. To know you are sitting when you are sitting. To know you are lying down when you are laying down. When coming out of meditation, when you may be somewhat settled, it could be almost second nature to stay that simple. Maybe not second nature, but staying that simple as a way of continuing to live in the benefits of the practice of mindfulness. Before you automatically or quickly get into the complexity of your life in your mind, you allow yourself to stay calm, centered, and simple.
We talked yesterday about Thich Nhat Hanh, who recently died. One of the things that many people remember him for, is when he did walking meditation. Sometimes long lines of people walking with him down a country road. He would go slowly and steadily. There is something compelling about when you walk, just walk. When you walk, just know walking. When you sit, just know sitting.
I will talk more about this second exercise tomorrow. For today, I wanted to emphasize the knowing quality. I would recommend, if you can today, to experiment. You all know things easily. It can be almost subconscious that you know something. You open your front door, and you did not have the conscious idea, "There is a door. There is a knob. This is opening the door." It is done on automatic almost. For those things that are almost automatic, see if you can open up and be a bit more mindful of them. See if you can find a way of recognizing "door, handle, opening" in a rudimentary, simple, easeful way.
You see that in the knowing itself, there is freedom. In the knowing itself, there is no entanglement with what is known. There is no being for or against. It is not automatic. The for and against entanglement can be so integral to the very act of knowing that we cannot tease it apart. But see if you can begin teasing it apart – just know. Eating – just eating. Hearing a sound – just hearing a sound.
See if you can find some places where you discover something very precious and special about your human capacity to know, to recognize. If you start appreciating the freedom, ease, and peace that is found in knowing, then mindfulness becomes a lot easier. And it is easier to receive some of the benefits that come from doing ongoing practice.
I see there is a note in the chat about wanting to see a copy of the sutta I am reading from. The reason I have not posted my translation is I want to redo my translation. I have not had any time to do that. A version I did many years ago is on the IMC website. If you look at the Resources menu from the top bar, there is "Written Dharma" and "Sutta Translations" is one of the categories in that sub-menu. There you find the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta. When I have more time, hopefully in the next couple of weeks I will post my updated understanding of the translation.
Thank you for being here and being part of this. As we go slowly and steadily through this text, I hope that it will become more alive for you – and richer and more engaging for your practice. Thank you.