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MIDL 1/52: Grounding Your Attention


In MIDL Mindfulness Training 1/52 you develop your initial skill in grounding your attention by bringing awareness to the sensate quality of your body as it sits in meditation. Through systematically opening up to the general sensate quality of your body, awareness naturally immerses within it. This creates a reference point from which you develop the skill of observing habitual shifts of your attention away from your body towards thoughts, sounds etc. strengthening mindfulness. Submit Your Question

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Awareness of My Whole Body

Your Question: During this meditation I have trouble following the instructions of being aware of the whole of my body. My attention is more like a point, I can place it on certain parts of my body but have difficulty being aware of it as a whole.

Stephen Procter: Do not be concerned, this is just the way that your awareness has been habitually trained throughout your life. You are learning about yourself and this is progression in mindfulness meditation.

As a meditator it is helpful to understand about the nature of awareness. Awareness is the 'knowing' factor that is present with any sense experience, it is the clarity of this knowing that we are working with in our meditation practice.

Awareness itself can be very narrow and only focused on one aspect of an experience or it can be very wide and take in many experiences at once. Think of awareness as being like sight, you can look closely at one thing or look wide and see the whole landscape. It is this skill in focus that you need to develop.

We all come to meditation with different aspects of our attention weaker than others, all aspects can be trained. When you experience a difficulty such as this in your meditation you should celebrate. It is clearly showing you your path, highlighting weaknesses in your attention that can be cultivated. This particular training is good for you, be gentle with yourself and learn to find the joy in the unfolding of the practice.

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Why is There No Music?

Your Question: I like to have music playing during meditation because it keeps me present and helps me to relax. Why don't your meditations have music?

Stephen Procter: Mindfulness meditation is a process of systematic attention training in order to clarify awareness. The distractions that occur during meditation, such as habitually wandering off towards thinking, are necessary for the strengthening of our mental factors. Through placing effort into noticing whenever we are distracted a sense of investigation and momentum of mindfulness develops.

While music playing during meditation is very relaxing, it tends to anchor our attention through entertaining the mind so does not help to develop or strengthen the attention factors of investigation or mindfulness. Periods of silence in which the mind can wander are necessary if we wish to cultivate our attention.

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Mind Wandering During Meditation

Your Question: I found it difficult to stay with my body during this meditation, my mind kept thinking. How do I make it stop?

Stephen Procter: One of our first lessons in mindfulness meditation is that it is not easy to stop wandering off and becoming lost within thinking during the meditation session - and that this is perfectly ok. One of the key points to understand is that your mind wandering is not a problem - this is what it does. Your heart beats, your lungs breathe and your mind thinks.

Your task during meditation is not to stop your mind from wandering but rather to develop the skill of being able to observe when it does wander. By taking interest in the points of change between being fully aware that you are sitting in meditation and forgetting that awareness, the clarity of your mindfulness will increase and the periods in which you become lost within thinking will naturally become shorter. With practice the habitual wandering of your mind towards thinking will settle by itself and your mind will fall into stillness.

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The Moment Thinking Begins

Your Question: I love this practice but I can't grasp the moment thinking begins. I experience moments without a thought and then I find myself in the middle of thinking and don't know how I got there. If I repeat this lesson maybe I will get the idea. Do you have any suggestions for improving this process?

Stephen Procter: These gaps between being fully aware of the experience of your body sitting in meditation and when you suddenly realise that you have been lost within thought, is the basis for MIDL mindfulness training. To develop your meditation practice your effort should be placed towards trying to notice the moment a thought arises.

Treat it like a game, feel the touch of your hands, relax your mind - mental silence - then watch. You may suddenly realise that that you have been lost within a thought again - wonderful. This realising is how mindfulness is strengthened and your skill sharpens.

Once you have returned to full awareness notice what it feels like to be Mindful once again. Compare this to what it felt like to be lost within the thought, fully unaware of your surroundings. Once you have acknowledged this return to the experience of your body sitting in meditation, take a slow gentle breath out to mentally relax and then watch your mind like a cat watching a mouse hole.

This is the game of MIDL mindfulness meditation training. I also suggest practicing this without the guided meditation playing by just sitting down, becoming aware of your body and allowing your mind to wander, developing the skill of observing any movements of your attention - you will develop greater results.

This very act of watching, trying to notice these periods of unawareness is the key. In this way the sharpness of your investigation and mindfulness will develop and you will start to notice thoughts as they arise. But this needs to be approached with the right attitude; of interest and fun, just like a game.

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Can't Feel Sensations

Your Question: Sometimes I doubt whether or not I’m properly aware of my body, the sensations for the most part seem somewhat elusive. It is definitely easier for me to hold my attention on touch rather than the body, could you give some guidance on this?

Stephen Procter: Doubt is considered the 5th hindrance to meditation, it is just a defense mechanism of your mind and when it arises it should be acknowledged but never believed. Always be careful to observe and acknowledge the relationship within your mind towards your experience within mindfulness meditation.

In mindfulness meditation you are not cultivating the ability to experience different sensations within your body but rather the clarity of the knowing factor of the awareness that is observing them. The clarity of awareness itself will fluctuate and this will affect your ability to observe different sensations within your body. It is not necessary to look for any experience that is not present to you but rather to just acknowledge what is there.

The sensations of touch are also part of the experience of your body, they are not separate from the sensations. Touch is made up of pressure, hardness, softness, warmth, coolness. Within your whole body right now can you experience any warmth or coolness? These are also sensations within your body.

What you are aware of at any time is unimportant during this MIDL Mindfulness Training. The experience of your body be it warmth, coolness, heaviness or touch, is just being used as a grounding point - a reference point from which to train the skill of observing when your attention moves away from it. This is the game that you are playing during mindfulness meditation, it is about observing the movement of the attention that knows the experience, not the experience itself.

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