Day 2 – Mindfulness Meditation for the Modern Life
As we enter week two, we continue our discovery of mindfulness meditation practices, a discovery rooted in kindness and care. We discussed the importance of a more clear and stable mind before we enter into the practice of vipassana or insight. Without both stability and ease, we risk being captivated and identified with the experiences that will arise. Shamatha allows us to cultivate focus and ease so that we can strengthen our capacity to sit with experience more fully before we begin the task of interpreting it. To this end, we will continue exploring shamatha practice through the course of the series, even as we begin to peel apart the layers of our experience.
Vipassana practice is where we take a steady lens to skillfully investigate various aspects of our experience. These aspects are known as the four foundations of mindfulness: physical, emotional, mental and environment. Often we spend a lot time in our heads with the various thoughts and stories that take up space. We forget or don’t know how to listen to our hearts or our bodies. Our minds drive us forward, even when the body feels exhausted or the heart feels heavy. Exploring the four foundations of mindfulness will help us awaken more fully into our being so that we can be better informed and feel more balanced.
This week we began to explore our physical experience. The physical seat also happens to be one of the first challenges for many practitioners. We come to our seat and feel that this is accessible, yet before we know it, we are inundated with physical sensations ranging from mild to difficult. As sensations arise, strong reactions arise as well. We may even create stories around the sensations in our backs, our legs or our knees. We begin to fidget and shift in the hopes the sensations will subside. In this way, we fall into the pattern of manipulating our experience so that it feels comfortable. However, we can only do that for so long before we find ourselves fidgeting our way through practice, feeling neither stable nor at ease. We seem to get caught in the same cycle we might find in life: avoiding and maneuvering around challenge and difficulty.
Through the practice of vipassana on the first foundation of mindfulness, we instead turn our attention towards the physical experience in a more skillful way. Rather than immediately stepping into how much we like or dislike sensation, we meet sensations as they arise and we investigate the raw nature of sensation. We dive deep beneath the surface of sensation. Is it hot or cold, pulsing or steady? Is it sharp or dull? Is it becoming stronger or lighter, perhaps even moving and shifting? Throughout, we use the breath as an anchor to which we can continually return to in order to sustain stability. We slowly begin to gain insight into the first aspect of all things in life: impermanence, everything is changing. So the seemingly solid sensation in my back, that I can become so identified with, begins to feel a little more porous. There are even moments of spaciousness and lack of sensation there. Rather than “I have back pain, I am totally identified with pain”, I might begin to see that this sensation in my back is just a momentary sensation in the field of my physical experience, one which is constantly changing. A clarity and a sense of spaciousness begins to grow.
We will continue exploring the nature of physical experience in our home practice, as we build the capacity and courage to sit with sensations. In small and kind ways, we begin to change the way in which we relate to life. All of this said, if at any point during meditation, you experience sharp pain that you feel could cause injury, I encourage you to alter your seat or choose to sit in a chair. Enjoy your week of discovery!
“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.” ~ Pema Chodron