2022-01-14 Satipaṭṭhāna (9) The Clear Seeing of Mindfulness
4:31PM Jan 14, 2022
Continuing this theme of satipaṭṭhāna, I want to repeat what I said at the beginning of the meditation because it is so important. Maybe I will say it in a different way. This practice of satipaṭṭhāna is not static. It involves an onward leading journey. I like the metaphor of deepening – deepening into our practice, into ourselves. It involves unfolding.
Just like if you are really tense in your body, running around doing a lot of things, and you finally have a chance to sit down, you might discover that your body begins to unwind, relax, and open up. That is an unfolding, a deepening, which is part of this journey.
The way human beings are created is that we are dynamic processes, which can unfold in all kinds of ways. We can move toward greater and greater tension and strain, which we can feel in our own eyes. Sometimes we can see when people are really caught up in something that their eyes are fixated. When they are afraid, we see it in their eyes. And this dynamic procress can unfold in beautiful ways. It can unfold into greater peace, relaxation, and openness. And satipaṭṭhāna is very much part of this dynamic process of life.
That sometimes is not understood when the practice is described in certain ways. In the way the practice is described it is sometimes said: "Just be aware. Just accept things as they are and be aware, and don't try to change anything." And it is kind of good advice. But even if you are not trying to change anything, if you practice this, you will change. You cannot help but change. Things open up in this dynamic process of satipaṭṭhāna.
The journey for each of these thirteen exercises of the satipaṭṭhāna begins with a statement. At the beginning it says: "And how does one observe the body in terms of the body? How does one observe the body in the body?"
Then it describes the exercise of breathing. One knows the breathing, knows the qualities of it, the characteristics of it. One experiences it, feels it deeply. And also one experiences the body. One begins experiencing feeling the full body as one breathes. Then one relaxes the body. So the instructions are to know, to feel, and to relax.
When we really settle, gather together, become unified, and present with the breathing, we are not distracted and fragmented in our mind. We are really here, settled on the breathing. At that point, the practice opens up to the ability to just observe. Sooner or later, it comes to that.
At some point, we start feeling that part of the tension is from too much doing in meditation – trying too hard to know, trying too much to get concentrated, trying too much even to relax. At some point, we are relaxed and settled enough that it is just a matter of settling back and observing our experience.
Then the text says, once you go through this process, "this" is how one observes the body in the body – the body in terms of the body. Now we understand better what the expression means "to observe the body." It literally says "the body in the body."
But in that grammatical form (the locative), "in" means "in terms of" the body. Just in terms of the body. Not in terms of someone else's body – someone else has better hair than I do. We just know our hair for what it is, independent of anybody else, without judgments or comparisons. We just know our body in and of itself on its own terms – not comparing it how our body was in the past or will be in the future, to ideals or judgments about the body, to what is fashionable, or to body types. Just the simplicity of the body. To experience, to observe, the body in terms of the body.
This observing – the word for it is anupassati – is a kind of emphatic seeing, clear seeing. The ability to see clearly, to be an observer, to watch. This is something that some people prefer not to talk about too much because it can create a kind of separation, dualism between experiencing and being the watcher. That can be true if we are not really settled in practice in a deep way. That is why we have to go through the steps of knowing, feeling, and relaxing in a deep way.
Then at some point, there is no duality in seeing because, in a sense, there is no watcher. There is just observing. And observing is cool, relaxed, open. There is no interference, no judgment, no wanting or not wanting. It is the ability to step back and watch.
The reference point that I often use for this is the kind of relaxed watching, like watching the waves in the ocean, or the flow, the current of a river. Some people can be mesmerized, just watching. It is very relaxing. Concerns of the day fall away. The mind relaxes around everything, just watching the waves, watching the current, watching a fire burn – some people can watch like this for a long time.
Or listening to the sound of water, even if you are not watching. If the emphasis on seeing is a problem for you, the alternative is to hear, to listen. Listening to the flow of a little creek or river. Listening to the rain falling or to the gentle breeze in the trees. You can just lie there and listen. The wider world falls away. It is just you and the experience. It is not even you after a while. You're not thinking about yourself. It is just the experience.
The first time I had this in a palpable way was when I was seventeen. I was riding in the backseat of a car. Going for long trips, and just watching out the window, something inside me got very peaceful and quiet. Just watching. It was almost as if time stopped and there were almost no thoughts in a wonderful way. Then, I would "come to," in a sense, when something happened with my friends who were driving, or they said something. I realized that I had been so deeply relaxed, just watching the scenery go by.
I don't know if these examples inspire some reference point you might have for this kind of observing. Perceiving with the mind's eye – the mind's ability to perceive. Observing is a state in which we just allow things to be. We are not trying to fix, or judge, or be with things. But it is when we really are well established that we can do this. At least that is how it works for me.
Some people have access to observing much sooner than I did when I started practicing. They find that it is so liberating right away, to settle back, just watch, and observe. For some people, it is only when the practice is really settled and concentrated, that it makes sense to back off and just observe. Sooner or later, the idea is to have an attitude of non-interfering, not trying to do something, or attain anything. Just settle back and just observe.
Now, this is part of the dynamic process of the practice. It is not that we we settle back to observe and that is the end of the story – and it's kind of boring. Rather, we settle back to observe and that begins to open up a new way of practicing and being. That new way is described in the refrain. After each of the exercises, there is a refrain. It is called a refrain, but I don't know if that is really the best way of describing it.
It is like there are many different ways of practicing mindfulness. They all kind of funnel into a particular set of insights, the deeper insights of insight meditation. The so-called refrain is a description of what happens when everything – all the different streams of mindfulness come into the depth of practice and they all share the insight part of mindfulness.
So we will start on Monday talking about the refrain – the insight part, how this is onward leading once we are able to observe experience. The last thing I will say is that there is no need to follow along with what I am talking about in your own meditation. In the guided meditations I do, it is partly to give some of you a hint or a sense of what is possible.
The teaching is also intended to open up the map and the terrain of mindfulness, so that as you keep practicing, when the time is right, you will recognize what is happening and will know how to go forward. It's asking a lot of you to follow along with all these steps, as if it were so easy – 1-2-3 – and you can just develop it this way. But I do hope it is helpful.
Thank you very much. I look forward to our time on Monday.