Time and Place
Focusing the mind on the body can be readily accomplished while sitting. You need to find a time and a place which affords you calm and freedom from disturbance.
A quiet room with not much in it to distract the mind is ideal; a setting with light and space has a brightening and clearing effect, while a cluttered and gloomy room has just the opposite. Timing is also important, particularly as most people's days are quite structured with routines. It is not especially productive to meditate when you have something else to do, or when you're pressed for time. It's better to set aside a period - say, in the early morning or in the evening after work -when you can really give your full attention to the practice. Begin with fifteen minutes or so. Practice sincerely with the limitations of time and available energy, and avoid becoming mechanical about the routine. Meditation practice, supported by genuine willingness to investigate and make peace with oneself, will develop naturally in terms of duration and skill.
Awareness of the Body
The development of calm is aided by stability, and by a steady but peaceful effort. If you can't feel settled, there's no peacefulness; if there's no sense of application, you tend to day-dream. One of the most effective postures for the cultivation of the proper combination of stillness and energy is sitting.
Use a posture that will keep your back straight without strain. A simple upright chair may be helpful, or you may be able to use one of the lotus postures. (Illustrations and notes on posture are given at the back of this booklet.) These look awkward at first, but in time they provide a unique balance of gentle firmness that gladdens the mind without tiring the body.
If the chin is tilted very slightly down this will help, but do not allow the head to loll forward as this encourages drowsiness. Place the hands on your lap, palms upward, one gently resting on the other with the thumb-tips touching. Take your time, and get the right balance.
Now, collect your attention, and begin to move it slowly down your body. Notice the sensations. Relax any tensions, particularly in the face, neck, and hands. Allow the eyelids to close or half close.
Investigate how you are feeling. Expectant or tense? Then relax your attention a little. With this, the mind will probably calm down, and you may find some thoughts drifting in - reflections, daydreams, memories, or doubts about whether you are doing it right! Instead of following or contending with these thought patterns, bring more attention to the body, which is a useful anchor for a wandering mind.
Cultivate a spirit of inquiry in your meditation attitude. Take your time. Move your attention, for example, systematically from the crown of the head down over the whole body. Notice the different sensations- such as warmth, pulsing, numbness, and sensitivity - in the joints of each finger, the moisture of the palms, and the pulse in the wrist. Even areas that may have no particular sensation, such as the forearms or the earlobes, can be 'swept over' in an attentive way. Notice how even the lack of sensation is something the mind can be aware of. This constant and sustained investigation is called mindfulness (sati) and is one of the primary tools of Insight Meditation.
Mindfulness of Breathing (anapanasati)
Instead of 'body sweeping', or after a preliminary period of this practice, mindfulness can be developed through attention on the breath.
First, follow the sensation of your ordinary breath as it flows in through the nostrils and fills the chest and abdomen. Then try maintaining your attention at one point, either at the diaphragm or - a more refined location - at the nostrils Breath has a tranquilising quality, steady and relaxing if you don't force it; this is helped by an upright posture. Your mind may wander, but keep patiently returning to the breath.
It is not necessary to develop concentration to the point of excluding everything else except the breath. Rather than to create a trance, the purpose here is to allow you to notice the workings of the mind, and to bring a measure of peaceful clarity into it. The entire process-gathering your attention, noticing the breath, noticing that the mind has wandered, and re-establishing your attention -develops mindfulness, patience, and insightful understanding. So don't be put off by apparent 'failure' - simply begin again. Continuing in this way allows the mind to eventually calm down.
If you get very restless or agitated, just relax. Practice being at peace with yourself, listening to - without necessarily believing in - the voices of the mind.
If you feel drowsy, then put more care and attention into your body and posture. Refining your attention or pursuing tranquility at such times will only make matters worse!
(to be continued...)
INTRODUCTION TO INSIGHT MEDITATION 1
Thursday, December 17, 2009