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MIDL 22/52: Past, Present & Future

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In MIDL Mindfulness Training 22/52 you continue to observe the habitual patterns within your mind by intentionally directing your attention towards the movement of the focus of awareness between past, present and future. By doing this in a methodical way you will learn to observe the changes in feeling within your body in relationship to memories of the past and thoughts of the future. This interdependence will become clearer to you. You will also be able to observe the uncomplicated nature and your body’s response when awareness rests within the experience of the present. Submit Your Question

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Elemental Quality

Your Question: Is there elemental quality within past and future?

Stephen Procter: Past and future do not have an elemental quality because they exist only within conceptual thought. The elemental quality is found only within experiences that arise within the six senses. Our relationship towards past and future however, does have an elemental quality that arises both in the mind and in the body. It is our relationship towards past and future that should be observed in this case.


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Difficult Emotions

Your Question: The emotional charge of the past and the present made this meditation very challenging for me.

Stephen Procter: On one level this mindfulness meditation worked as you observed how your relationship towards memories of the past altered your relationship towards your present experience. Yet the difficulty you had being with the feeling produced by your mind due to memories of your past, is a sign that your mindfulness and skill in softening need to be further developed.

Have you been doing these MIDL Mindfulness Trainings in order over the last 22 weeks?

I recommend developing your skill in softening / relaxing your relationship towards what you are experiencing and increasing the continuity of your mindfulness, before doing this meditation again. In particular retraining any habitual stress breathing patterns that my be present. It is the change of breathing from diaphragmatic in the belly to short and shallow in our chest that brings about the anxiousness that you experienced when bringing the past to mind.

Practice daily MIDL Mindfulness Training 3/52: Retraining Autonomous Breathing for three weeks and then refine your skill in flexible attention and softness by beginning at MIDL Mindfulness Training 1/52: Grounding Your Attention, gradually progressing to MIDL Mindfulness Training 22/52. In this way you will have the tools necessary to heal your past and this meditation of observing the past and future will be much easier.


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Strong Emotional Charge

Your Question: I’m a complete mess! I think I need to go back to session 1. I got to session 22 and the emotional charge I encountered there was too heavy. The five hindrances have taken over me.

Stephen Procter: And this is ok.
Mindfulness meditation is a process of uncovering, of revealing what is hidden, of making clear what is unclear. This takes some courage, a willingness to feel our own vulnerability and a gentleness towards our own pain. There is no such thing as going backwards in MIDL mindfulness meditation, just a skillful recognising of when we need to strengthen different foundational skills and the humility to return to them. I can see you understand this.

MIDL Mindfulness Training 1/52 is an attention training skill, the foundation skill that you need to develop is not attention training, even though it may manifest as scattered attention during meditation. The strong emotional charge tells me that the foundation skill that you need to develop is Softening. The skill of softening / relaxing into your relationship towards what is being experienced. The ability to soften both mentally and physically is the key.

This begins with MIDL Mindfulness Training 3/52 in which you retrain any stress-chest breathing patterns to diaphragmatic breathing. This in itself will lower your experience of the five hindrances and the strength of the emotional charge that has come up in your practice. There is a talk on the Meditation in The Shire website MIDL 9: Retraining Autonomous Breathing 3/52 and also a detailed section with questions other meditators have asked regarding this training with each guided meditation.

Once you can breathe more slowly with your diaphragm you can then use it to learn how to relax deeply, first physically, then mentally with each out-breath. This will provide you with the foundation for your Softening skill which will allow you to be with difficult emotions and the five hindrances by softening / relaxing any resistance you feel towards them. This skill in Softening is practiced and refined in MIDL Mindfulness Trainings 4-5/52.

Once you have a better understanding of what it means to soften / relax your relationship towards what you are experiencing during seated meditation and in daily life, then you will have the basis to move on to MIDL Mindfulness Training 6/52 and begin attention training through the development of mindfulness of breathing. Creating the basis for MIDL Mindfulness Trainings 22 - 23/52 where you will be able to observe and decondition the emotional charge through the mindful non-participation that comes through a balance of softness and flexible attention.


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Is Not Thinking Possible?

Your Question: Does anyone meditate with no wandering mind whatsoever? Ever? Perhaps only extremely skilled meditators with many years can? Is it possible to sit with no thinking?

Stephen Procter: As long as the 5 physical sense doors are open and the habitual functions of your mind are not suppressed, than there will be always be habitual wandering of your mind as it moves between your senses. This wandering at times can appear as being very messy, a sliding of awareness, or when momentary concentration is stronger it can appear like a laser beam striking each sense.

This being said it is possible to experience the mind without any movement through the development of one-pointed concentration in order to close down the five physical senses and to suppress the minds grosser habitual functions.

This is experienced in the development of Jhanas: Mental absorptions. Ajahn Brahmavamso in 'The Basic Methid of Meditation and the Jhanas' lists the characteristic of Jhana as:

"Summary of Landmarks of all Jhanas
1. There is no possibility of thought.
2. No decision making process is available.
3. There is no perception of time.
4. Consciousness is non-dual, making comprehension inaccessible.
5. Yet one is very, very aware, but only of bliss that doesn't move; and
6. The five senses are fully shut off, and only the sixth sense, mind, is in operation."

So as you can see it is possible to experience mind free from movement through the development of one-pointed concentration. This path of seclusion through suppression is the path of Tranquility. It is based on the perception of permanence and can not develop if attention is allowed to wander. In this case you would want to settle / calm as you say, the monkey mind.
If on the other hand you are practicing mindfulness meditation, you are not seeking to shut down your five senses but rather to develop increased awareness of them in order to cultivate wisdom in regards to their nature. In the case of mindfulness meditation therefore there will always be wandering of the mind as awareness moves between all six senses, doing what it is supposed to do, interpret them.

That being said there is stillness that can be experienced within the habitual movement within the mind, through the development of mindfulness meditation. When we begin our training we first become lost within the habitual movements of our attention and what they absorb into, such as thinking. This is a normal experience when practicing mindfulness meditation.

As our meditation develops and the continuity of periods of mindfulness increases than we can observe these habitual movements of attention without becoming lost or absorbed within their content. We can literally observe our attention move without moving with the attention. This happens when we learn the skill of being aware of being aware through remembering to remember. This mindful observing is still and tranquil, even though the mind interacting with the six sense doors may not be.

Summary:
To sum this up if you are meditating for tranquility than your attention moving and becoming lost within thinking is a problem because it collapses one-pointed concentration and removes the perception of permanence.

If however you are meditating for Insight into the nature of reality than your attention moving and becoming lost within thinking is not a problem because it clarifies the characteristics of the impermanent and the impersonal nature of the habitual mind.

This is an important point, when practicing mindfulness meditation your task 'is not' to quieten your monkey mind. Your task is to observe it doing whatever it is doing without becoming lost within it to develop understanding of its true nature. And if you become lost within the habitual functions of your mind during mindfulness meditation then this is also not a problem. Your mindfulness coming and going is just highlighting the impersonal nature of the habitual mind and the impersonal nature and impermanence of the watching itself.


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