Foundations of Mindfulness (Part 1 of 4)

Mindfulness of Body

Mindfulness is what is needed in order to end suffering in ourselves and attain awakening. This is also the 3rd Noble Truth in Buddhism. In order to end suffering, you must first of all see the suffering that exists in mindlessness, and second want enough for the suffering to end.

The Satipatthana Sutta is the recorded oral teaching from the Buddha, spreaking on the tools needed to develop mindfulness.

Tarchin Hearn, author of “Satipatthana – Foundations of Mindfulness, A Manual for Beginners” described mindfulness as:

The act of bringing a profound degree of friendly enquiry to every aspect of experience.

The key parts here are “friendly inquiry”, which implies that rather than judging our experiences we are open to receiving them, and “every aspect of experience” which means that we do not prefer to experience something, and not something else. We let it all in like welcoming a friend at the door and see it for what it is. We also experience the benefits of this immediately.

Satipatthana is not something you practice now to get a benefit later. All the benefits arise in the practice itself. By bringing an unshakable friendliness and a deep degree of curiosity and interest into what is happening in and around you, moment by moment, by doing this again and again and acclimatizing to this way of being, you will come to see the very ordinary things in life as extraordinary miracles and the extraordinary will reveal itself to be absolutely ordinary.

The Satipatthana teaches that there are four areas where we can be mindful, the first being the body, however all four are inseparably weaved. Being mindful of all four, we are aware of the creation of what life is, as it is happening.

[The Satipatthana] is an encouragement to investigate in a clear, lucid and intimate way these four areas; body, feeling/ evaluation, states of mind, and objects of mind which together, give rise to the human experience.

Starting with the body, we develop a groundedness in our being.

The following practices are extracted/ summarized from Tarchin Hearn’s book “Satipattana – Foundations of Mindfulness, and Introduction for Beginners”.

downloadPractice 1: Breathing

The text first speaks of breathing in long and short. Here you begin to study and explore all the different types of breathing. Without controlling the breathing in any way one simply experiences and notes the shape and texture of the in-breath and out-breath. One simply recognizes one is breathing smooth and short, or rough and shakily, etc. At this initial stage, one simply notes all the different types of breaths that can occur. Noting the breath means they physically feel the textures and sensations of breathing in your body.

Gradually you begin to notice that your entire body is involved in breathing. You also begin to notice the entire body of the breath, i.e. the beginning, middle and end of both the inhalation and the exhalation. At this point you might think, “I shall breathe in experiencing the whole body,” that is to say, experiencing the whole physical body and the whole body of the breath. The two are not separate. In other translations, this part says, “Experiencing the bodily formations I shall breathe in. Experiencing the bodily formations I shall breathe out’. As you explore in this way, it becomes more and more apparent that the tensions of the body are shaping the breathing and vice-versa.

At this stage when you discover a blissful flow in the body and breath, you will probably just enjoy it and settle more deeply into it. However, when you find tension in the body and breath, you might think, ‘Calming the body, breathing in. Calming the body, breathing out’. To calm or tranquillising the bodily formations doesn’t mean to fix it or to change it in any way. To calm the body and breath means to make friends with the state of the body and breath just as you find them. When we cease rejecting difficult states that are present and cease wishing for states that aren’t present, we begin to feel more easeful with what we have and what we are; this is the process of calming the body formations.

Suggested Readings: “The Breath of Awakening” by Namgyal Rinpoche, “Breathing; The Natural Way to Meditate” by Tarchin Hearn or “The Path of Purification; The Vissudhi-magga”

As you practice this section on breathing, five qualities will show you that you are on the right track. 1. Increase calm, 2. Increase clarity of mind, 3. Decreasing verbalization (tendency to create stories or to speculate about what is happening), 4. Increasing absorption, less sense of separation between you the meditator ad the breathing, the object of meditation, 5. The rate of breathing will gradually slow down and settle.

downloadPractice 2: Insight/ Vipassana – Internal

Insight or vipassana essentially means looking deeply into what is presently arising. Insight meditation is often confused with looking for, or getting insights, as if an ‘insight’ was a special object or knowledge, that we could possess and preserve. Insight, in terms of vipassana, really means the activity of ‘sighting into’. It’s a process, a verb. Looking/ experiencing more deeply into any phenomena, will always reveal it to be an interdependent arising of many factors including the factors of our own perception and consciousness.

To contemplate internally means to feel, experience, sense oneself as one’s body, subjectively, in other words as if from the inside. One might have the experience of ‘being’ one’s body rather than observing it, or being the breathing rather than watching it.

Body scanning is such a meditation that would fit this category. Try sitting or laying down and starting from the tip of your toes up to the tip of your head, observe what sensations you can feel in the body. Are there any areas where you feel no sensations?

The hands and feet are often easy places to feel sensation, and you could also start by simply attempting to feel the palm of the hands of soles of the feet, and eventually the individual fingers or toes, building up to the entire body.

downloadPractice 3: Insight/ Vipassana – External

To contemplate the body externally is to experience it objectively, as if you were an observer, looking from the outside. To contemplate the body both internally and externally is to be simultaneously observing the body and being the body with no paradox or contradiction.

Such meditations for this might be going to a cremation ceremony, as monks used to do, visiting a graveyard, watching a documentary about the human body, or observing a human dissection (or pictures of).

Such “gross” practices such as the above help us both to stop cherishing our bodies as if they are not filled with blood, puss, tears, joint fluid, etc, and to see our bodies as precious because one day they will perish, yet we have this period of time to animate these bodies and live a life.

Another practice from the Buddha is to meditate on “Skin Flesh Bones, Bones Flesh Skin” and repeating this mantra while imagining your own body’s skin, flesh, and bones.

downloadPractice 4: The four postures

Again, bhikkus, when walking, a bhikku understands: ‘I am walking’; when standing, he understands: ‘I am standing’; when sitting, he understands: ‘I am sitting’; when lying down, he understands: ‘I am lying down’; or he understands accordingly however his body is disposed.

Here one continues the exploration of breathing but now taking the practice into whatever posture you happen to be in. To “understand” you are sitting means to have a rich interior awareness of the physical sensation of sitting. The word translated as understanding is pajanati – to know, find out, come to know, understand, and distinguish.

The body is never static. All sorts of muscular movement and adjustments are needed to rest in any particular position. Even when lying down if you pay attention to detail, you will notice shifts and changes. The breathing shifts in response to the posture. The posture shifts in response to the breathing. The body is an inter-being of innumerable factors.

Because the ordinary is so habitual and familiar, a lot of awake, sensitive, attention to detail, is needed in order to experience there familiar postures fresh new ways

[Kum Nye, Feldenkrais, or any other body awareness practice helps to augment this section]

Coming Soon: Foundations of Mindfulness Part 2 – Feeling

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3 comments

  1. […] One of the first things we learn to do in meditation is learn how to sit straight and relaxed. The effect of learning to sit like this is a clue to how vipassana works: when the body is both relaxed and alert, the mind can be as well. Together, your mind and body create your experience of life, as outlined in the four foundations of mindfulness. […]

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