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MIDL 13/52: Experiencing the Four Elements

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In MIDL Mindfulness Training 13/52 you intentionally develop sensitivity to the four elemental qualities of experience. They are experienced as Earth Element = a range of ‘soft’ to ‘hard’, Fire Element = a range of ‘cool’ to ‘hot’, Water Element = a range of ‘dry’ to ‘wet’ and Wind Element = a range of contraction to expansion (movement). These four elemental qualities are the building blocks of all experience appearing before perception and the proliferation of the mind. By developing sensitivity to these elemental qualities all experience breaks up and identification with experience ceases. Submit Your Question

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Can't See All Elements

Your Question: I can only experience some of the sensations that you mention during this guided meditation. How can I experience more?

Stephen Procter: During the guided meditation I may mention many different things that can be experienced, this is because guided meditations are generic in nature since they are recorded for the possible experience of many different people. If you do not experience certain sensations during your meditation then that is perfectly ok - it will not affect your meditation practice.

In MIDL mindfulness meditation whatever we are experiencing is always correct, our only task is simply to acknowledge whatever presents itself to us and soften / relax any attraction or aversion that arises within that relationship.


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Pain and Itchiness

Your Question: What about pain or itchiness. Would you see them as the 4 elements, or something else?

Stephen Procter: Pain and itchiness are made up of a number of elemental qualities. Itchiness for example may be experienced as tightness, movement and warmth which relates to earth, air and fire element respectively. Pain may be experienced as hardness, tightness, sharpness, hot, cold, moving, vibrating, throbbing, trickling, heavy, etc and the mind observing it with resistance can be experienced as hard, tight, heavy, hot, restless, sticky etc.

All four elemental qualities can be observed in each experience and also in the mind observing them. It is just that certain qualities will make themselves more known to us due to specific conditions within the mind. Due to these conditions some qualities may appear clearly to us while comparatively some may be more subtle. It just depends where our attention is focussed.


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Earth, Fire, Water, Air

Your Question: It would be really great if you named the 4 elements properly (earth, wind, air, fire) and draw on their insight elements. As there are these elements inside the body they are outside the body as well and they are all of the some nature. No difference, no one who owns them.

Stephen Procter: The Buddha used similar names to what you have used but with the addition of water element and the combining of wind and air as one. When referring to the four experiential elemental qualities he used: Earth, Fire, Water and Air. The different elements that I have referred to during this MIDL Mindfulness Training are the way that these four elemental qualities are experienced.
Earth: Experienced as a range of soft to hard.
Fire: Experienced as a range of cool to hot.
Water: Experienced as a range of dry to wet.
Wind: Experienced as a range of contraction to expansion (movement).

While the concepts 'earth, fire, water, wind' are convenient labels for sorting the elemental qualities within a talk or book, they are not the actual experience during meditation. The experience is the sensate quality that arises through the contact of our senses. We cannot experience any elemental qualities outside the range of our body though we can infer that they exist by thinking about them. All that we can know as meditators is our own experience as the world 'touches us and this experience is dependent on contact with our senses.

In other words we cannot know the world around us we can only know it as it contacts our senses and even the experience of this contact is not the experience of the world but the elemental qualities that arise due to the touch of this contact. This is the difference between book knowledge and actual experience, experience is limited by the range of the senses.

The purpose of breaking experience into its elemental qualities while meditating is to remove the ability of the mind to habitually identify with the present experience. Giving them group names and referring to anything outside of the purity of the present experience just encourages more mental verbalisation and therefore hinders the development of investigation, mindfulness and concentration.


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Can't Feel Hardness

Your Question: I cannot feel hardness or softness WITHIN my body. I can feel the hardness of the floor against my knees or the softness of the blanket beneath my hands but I don't feel it within. What is meant by this?

Stephen Procter: While it appears that we can directly experience the blanket or the floor, when we observe directly during meditation we see that it is not possible to experience them other then as sensations that arise within our body as they touch it. The experience of hardness is not the floor; it is just sensations arising within your body due to touch. The experience of softness is not the blanket; it is also just sensations arising within your body due to touch. The idea of the blanket and floor is mind created, the image of them is a perceptional overlay created by your mind to interpret the world around you through this touch.

Your bodies function is to experience the world around you through touch, and touch arises within your body as different sensations, this is one way that you sense the world. Hardness and softness arise at any point where two things contact, the pressure of that contact changes the experience between hardness and softness as they are relative to the solidity of the surfaces. The only place that you can experience this touch is within the sense field of your body.

Observe points of touch within your body during meditation such as your buttocks on the floor or chair. Become aware of the sensations at these points of touch and observe how the imaginary experience of the chair or floor fade and the sensations of pressure, hardness or softness become all that there is.


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