2022-01-25 Satipaṭṭhāna (16) Awareness of Posture Reveals
4:16PM Jan 25, 2022
We have started discussions of the second exercise of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta. The one that goes very simply: "When walking, one knows one is walking. When standing, knowing one is standing. Sitting, one knows one is sitting. Lying down, one knows one is lying down. What ever way the body is positioned, one knows that."
It is easy to skim over this, because most people can master this one very quickly – to know they are standing when they are standing. And they are ready to go off to do something else. But to center oneself in the knowing has all kinds of benefits.
The one I am going to focus on today is how it can be a reference point for how we do not want to be there. To simply see where the momentum and impulses are – where the life force is going for us. This may be a way that is not always healthy for us, or does not express a lot of our freedom.
For example, standing in the market, in line for the cashier. Centering oneself, "Standing, I know I am standing." To know that not only with words, but know it feeling-wise – an embodied knowing. Just stand there and breathe with that. Be with the standing. It could just be for a few seconds. Then you might notice a strong pull, desire, or impulse to read the front covers of the magazines that are there. Or maybe your strong impulse is to look and see what other people are buying, and comment on it in your mind. Or maybe you notice only then how impatient you are. You are actually crowding the person in front of you a little bit, because you are somehow eager to get on with checking out.
Without the reference point of a simple, "I know I'm standing," we see that we cannot just stand. We want to do more, to be engaged. There are impulses. Walking – to just walk and know you are walking, and that is all you are doing. It might highlight how you are walking in a hurry. You are leaning forward, or you are tense. It might highlight how you are walking. Or highlight the fact that you are hardly noticing your surroundings, or yourself walking, because you are in some kind of reverie, preoccupation, or anxiety.
None of these things is wrong. But they do take us away from the simplicity of what we are doing at the moment. The path of mindfulness is to know it, to be mindful of it. To know: "Oh, there's a desire to look at the magazine covers. There's a desire to move forward. I'm impatient." And to know that with your simplest, clearest, freest knowing. That becomes one of the premier reference points: simple knowing. Can we allow ourselves the calm, simple knowing of what is happening? Or is the mind racing ahead, wanting to do things, wanting to pick things up, wanting to get involved? It cannot just stay centered and settled.
Standing in line in a market – it is not the end of the world to just stand there, breathe, and be present. You can feel how there is a lack of freedom in how we are crowding the other person, looking at the cashier, trying to calculate how quickly they will be done. It is not going to change anything, probably. But you can see the way you have been caught. That kind of concern has us in its grip.
Walking the same way – we can see the complexity of it. The beautiful art of this is that no matter how complicated the mind's preoccupation is, or how complicated the situation we are in, we always have the capacity to know it in a simple way.
One of my labels or ways of knowing covers all situations, no matter how complicated. I just tell myself, "Knowing chaos." This moment, I know that it is chaotic. I do not know the details of the chaos necessarily, or understand all of it. I am not trying to evaluate, study, or fix it. Just, "Oh, chaos." Knowing that keeps it really simple.
There are times when I have used that knowing of chaos. Because I know it, now I can take it in and perceive it more fully as chaos. And then I start seeing – almost naturally, without losing that simplicity – some of the details. I notice that the chaos was primarily physical agitation in my body. Now it is simply knowing physical agitation. As I am with that in a simple way, at some point, it becomes clear that there is anxiety, and the anxiety is this.
It begins to be more specific – but not because I am investigating, questioning, and wondering what is happening. I am relying on the simplicity of knowing, for things to become clear. If we have simple knowing, and just allow ourselves to be with what is happening, then clarity begins to appear on its own.
It becomes a refuge, the simple knowing. It is a reference point for freedom. At its simplest, knowing happens in a very free way. Knowing is independent of what is known. If I see the magazine covers on the rack at the market, I can recognize some exotic title of an article and I can just know it, "Look at that – there's a title." As opposed to being horrified, fascinated, eager to get involved, or judging, "How could they?" When I start getting that complicated, I can notice, "Oh, I've lost myself in the complexity, the feelings, the desires, the drives I have." And this is not freedom.
When knowing is free, then it is a reference point. The teachings – "When walking, know you are walking. Standing, know you are standing. Sitting, know you are sitting. Lying down, know you are lying down" – can function in this way. Simple knowing helps bring more mindfulness, more attention, to what is going on for us, beyond the simplicity of just standing and walking.
If nothing more is going on – if it is easy to stay close to walking when walking, sitting when sitting, standing when standing, and lying when lying down – then just enjoy yourself. Sit there and breathe. Be there breathing, walking, and feeling – being connected to the experience. This is a fantastic pleasure.
If you make it more complicated, know it. That is the case. With that knowing perhaps is also some wisdom. You realize: "I don't have to spend my time looking at the covers of magazines, when I have something better to do. I can just stand here, breathe, and be present." Or you may realize, "Maybe I should get a magazine. A friend of mine is ill. I know my friend likes that particular kind of magazine. It's a nature magazine, and maybe I'll buy it for my friend." That is a little more complicated, but it comes from a very different place.
In the Satipaṭṭhāna refrain, at the very end it says: "One is mindful there is a body just to the extent necessary for knowledge and lucid, clear awareness." Here again, we have this very simple statement, "There is a body." The text of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta goes from that refrain to the second exercise, where it remains that simple.
As we develop the simplicity of practice, it opens up. We become aware of a bit more complexity. Hopefully, we are learning how to be aware of more and more complexity, more richness of the moment – and we know it in this simple way. The simple way may not always be so cognitive. It might not be a label or a word, like "chaos" or "sound." It might be quieter knowing, closer to just experiencing.
I think those are my words for today. I am enjoying going through the Satipaṭṭhāna slowly, step by step. We will continue.
Take refuge in your knowing. Experiment and explore what it is like to be simple. The simplicity of being with whatever is happening. The simplicity of knowing whatever is happening. See what shows itself. See what clarity comes.
The reason to experiment with this and explore it over the next day or two, is that our mindfulness will get a bit more complicated, more involved, slightly. Keep the ability to have a refuge in knowing. And keep it simple. Always coming back to the simplest knowing, the simplest awareness of it all, is such a powerful support as we go through the entire Satipaṭṭhāna. So, thank you very much.