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MIDL 2/52: Experiencing Your Whole Body

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In MIDL Mindfulness Training 2/52 you develop the accuracy of your attention by intentionally moving your awareness through your body part by part. The factors that make up your attention are investigation, mindfulness, concentration and awareness. When moving your attention within your body do it in a systematic way and make each area that you apply awareness to small and accurate. Mentally ‘feel’ each area by gently rubbing your awareness on the experience of that point, softening your relationship to it, allowing sensitivity to your whole body as a field of sensation to start to open. Submit Your Question

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Trouble Remaining Still

Your Question: I am just wondering if you can provide any insight as to why body scans are so difficult to remain still? I find body scans and meditations like yoga nidra to be the most difficult for me - it is almost like my skin begins to crawl, whereas I can sit in other meditations of the same duration without that problem?

Stephen Procter: Understanding this reaction to scanning your body comes from understanding the relationship between your mind and body. Our body reflects the state of our mind and responds by producing emotions, these emotional reactions if experienced for a period of time can store within our body long after the initial painful experience has passed. Often our mind will avoid clearly experiencing our body in order to avoid feeling the pain of emotions within it. I see this avoidance and disconnect with the experience of the body when working with people experiencing severe trauma. The one place their mind does not want to go is to the experience of sensations within their body.

The reason you can sit in other meditations without this reaction may be because the development of concentration is suppressing the experience of your body rather than opening it up and clarifying it; this suppression through concentration is common to many meditation techniques. During body scans your focus is towards experiencing your body and this increases your sensitivity towards the different sensations within it. Many of these sensations are connected to suppressed emotional pain that you may have been avoiding. When meditating on sensations within your body your mind can become agitated and restless as unpleasant emotional sensations within your body start to open and become clearer. This will then cause the reactions that you describe.

Your task as a meditator is to be gentle with yourself and to allow yourself to feel these different reactions within your body. This means relaxing into what you are experiencing allowing the emotion to move and release. Sometimes your body may even twitch or jolt around as the energy moves and releases. Just relax and allow. Learning the skill of being with and relaxing into your aversion towards what you are experiencing will allow healing to occur. The next three MIDL Mindfulness Trainings 3 - 5/52 will develop your skill in softening any resistance that you are experiencing, allowing you to fully benefit from this body scan.


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Can't Feel All Sensations

Your Question: During this meditation I am not able to experience sensations in all the areas that you ask me too. How do I make these sensations more clear to me?

Stephen Procter: As you move your attention throughout your body it is not necessary to clearly experience sensations within every part of your body. In some places within your body you may very clearly experience different sensations, within other parts it may feel as if there is nothing there. The important part in this training is not the sensations themselves but rather the clarity in which you can know ‘what is present to you’.

By focussing on increasing the accuracy and clarity of your awareness of each point within your body, both mindfulness and concentration will develop. As these two mental factors develop the sensate quality of your body will open to you and you will start to experience sensations in areas that you never did before.

But this opening up to the experience of your body does not come by trying to experience sensations that aren’t present to you but rather from being very clear about what you are experiencing right now.


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Do I Tense and Relax?

Your Question: During this meditation I don't understand fully if I have to tense every part then slowly relax each part of my body or if I have to search for any tension in my body. Can you help me to understand?

Stephen Procter: During MIDL Mindfulness Meditation Training 2/52 we do not tense and release our muscles in order to create relaxation but rather observe and relax our relationship towards any tension that is already present to us.

The ability to experience sensations within our body begins with MIDL Mindfulness Training 1/ 52 which helps us to develop the skill of becoming sensitive to different sensations within our body in a very general way. MIDL Mindfulness Training 2/52 then helps us to develop more accuracy of attention by mindfully turning it towards these sensations.

Again, we are just developing sensitivity towards the sensations that are present; there is no need to try to make anything happen. After experiencing the sensations present within each point of our body we then use a few slow, gentle breaths to soften / relax our relationship towards what we are experiencing.

This relaxation is mental not physical. As we learn the skill of mentally relaxing into the experience of the sensations, any tension within those sensations will also relax. The skill of relaxing into these sensations in each area of your body is the first introduction to the MIDL Softening skill which you will start to develop in MIDL exercise 3/52.


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This Body Scan is Boring

Your Question: When doing this body scan I become really bored.

Stephen Procter: Whenever anything arises in your mindfulness meditation practice it is an opportunity to observe and understand it. What does it mean to be bored, how do you even know that you are bored? What is boredom, where do you experience it?

Are there sensations within your body or mind that reflect the experience of boredom?

When observed boredom is a combination of two mental states: aversion and delusion. Boredom is literally a lack of attention - aversion to what is being experienced now - it is a state of not knowing. The antidote for boredom is Mindfulness, when Mindfulness is present then boredom can not exist.

Knowing this boredom becomes our friend, it tells us when our mind is filled with aversion - when the quality of our attention has faded. When we are fully present everything is interesting.


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Please Explain Attention

Your Question: What do you mean by moving my attention during this meditation? Also I can not always feel the sensations you describe.

Stephen Procter: The word 'attention' is being used as a meditation language to describe three functions of awareness. When I use the word 'attention' it means:
1."The focusing of awareness to one point."
2. "The clarity of awareness of the sensate quality (sensations) at that point."
3. "The movement of the focus of awareness between experiences whether intentional or unintentional."

To get the most out of this exercise focus on:
1. intentionally moving and placing your awareness on one point within your body and holding it there for the desired time.
2. Mentally 'feeling' any sensations at that point.
3. Observing every time your awareness shifts from the chosen point within your body, acknowledge this movement of attention and bringing it back. Your description of experiencing many sensations is a sign that this aspect of your attention is being trained.

Do not be too concerned if you can not feel the breathing or sensations in a particular area, guided meditations need to be generic. Whatever you experience is correct, there is no need to try to experience something that is not yet present to you.


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Emotions in My Body

Your Question: When I do a body scan, I notice physical discomfort often suddenley arises in places as I focus on them. Alternately, sometimes it seems as if emotions are stored in different parts as they arise strongly too when I move to a new area. Why does this happen? The other thing is even when my body becomes very relaxed, I often still have a busy mind and can't seem to 'let my body teach my mind how to relax', as you suggest. Any tips for this please?

Stephen Procter: You asked: “When I do a body scan, I notice physical discomfort often suddenly arises in places as I focus on them. Alternately, sometimes it seems as if emotions are stored in different parts as they arise strongly too when I move to a new area. Why does this happen?"

Reply:One of the functions of our body is to reflect the state of our mind by rearranging the sensations within it. This reflection arises as tension, relaxation and what we call emotions. Our body retains memory of what it is continuously exposed to, we can see this memory in the way it gradually shapes to bad posture. Our body also retains memory of reflections of our state of mind if it is continuously exposed to them over a period of time. Stress and trauma for example.

The mind can then develop aversion to experiencing its own reflection and we become unaware of sadness, fear, anger stored within our body. When awareness is brought to these areas the reflection is triggered and the response is released. The most important part during this stage is to learn to soften / relax your response to these reflections to bring this relationship of avoidance through aversion to an end.

You asked: “The other thing is even when my body becomes very relaxed, I often still have a busy mind and can't seem to 'let my body teach my mind how to relax', as you suggest. Any tips for this please?”

Reply:This thinking is habitual; you can’t bring it to an end by trying to bring it to an end. Think of it like a fire, a fire burns dependent on fuel. Your task is to stop feeding it fuel, learn through observation that thinking is an impersonal, autonomous function of the mind and that the wandering of the mind really is unimportant. Withdraw your participation and allow the mind to run if it wants to, allow it to follow its own nature, just be aware of this wandering. Allow it to simply burn up its fuel. Use the deep relaxation of your body as a place for awareness to sit, a place from which to observe your mind run. Your only effort is directed towards noticing whenever you forget your awareness of your body. It is through mindful non-participation that the habit of thinking will no longer be fed and gradually come to an end.


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Releasing Sensations

Your Question: From what you've said, I understand that sensations in the body are reflections of the mind. So if you just notice and feel the sensations and emotions in the body, does that then clear and release them from both the body and the mind? And the busy mind is focusing on the thoughts giving them fuel?

So if you can put your awareness in the body and have that distance from the mind, it stops giving the mind fuel? I have noticed the lower down in the body I focus my attention, the calmer my mind becomes! I always thought this was to do with grounding the energy downwards- any thoughts on this?

Stephen Procter: You asked: “I understand that sensations in the body are reflections of the mind.”

Reply: The body’s role as a sense organ is to reflect touch.
Some sensations arise in the body through the five senses to reflect the touch of the world. Some sensations arise in the body to reflect the touch of the mind.

You asked: “So if you just notice and feel the sensations and emotions in the body, does that then clear and release them from both the body and the mind?”

Reply: It is not a matter of releasing them; this thinking is coming from aversion, as if they shouldn’t be there. They are doing what they are meant to do. It is always a matter of relationship, of relaxing our relationship towards what is being experienced. This relationship is one of attraction or aversion. It is through deconditioning habitual attraction and aversion within the mind that this comes to an end, not by trying to make something be different to how it is.

You asked: “And the busy mind is focusing on the thoughts giving them fuel?”

Reply: Where awareness sits energy goes.

You asked: “So if you can put your awareness in the body and have that distance from the mind, it stops giving the mind fuel?”

Reply: Thinking needs participation to continue, it needs awareness to immerse within it. Like a fire that is no longer being fed it will consume the fuel and go out by itself. Immersing awareness within the experience of the body removes the fuel. The problem is that being attentive to thinking and identifying with it as ‘my thoughts’ is habitual, this is part of delusion. Wisdom brings this identification to an end.

You asked: “I have noticed the lower down in the body I focus my attention, the calmer my mind becomes! I always thought this was to do with grounding the energy downwards- any thoughts on this?”

Reply: Where awareness sits energy goes. This is my experience also. Notice that the first training in MIDL Mindfulness Training 1/52 is not mindfulness of breathing but rather Grounding Your Awareness? In MIDL our first step is to learn the skill of grounding awareness within the body, withdrawing the fuel for the habitual mind, and observing any habitual movements of awareness away from this grounding.


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Controlling Breathing

Your Question: I sometimes have a hard time with breathing aspects of meditation—the instruction is to breathe deeply and naturally, but I find that once I focus on my breath at all, I perceive that I’m no longer breathing naturally (it feels like I’m interfering with it inevitably as I pay attention to it). Do you have any advice for this issue?

Stephen Procter: MIDL mindfulness meditation is a Wisdom practice. Through systematically progressing through these MIDL Mindfulness Trainings you are developing understanding about yourself and your relationship to the world.

You said: "I find that once I focus on my breath at all, I perceive that I’m no longer breathing naturally (it feels like I’m interfering with it inevitably as I pay attention to it)."

This is wonderful, your breathing has served its purpose and reflected your state of mind. It is showing you about your habitual desire to control things in your life that do no need to be controlled. As you progress through these mindfulness trainings you will learn the skill of observing your natural breathing, free from control.

The desire to control things within our life comes from a basis of anxiety, we are scared to give up control and one of the reasons breathing is used is because it reflects that. You will start working with deconditioning this desire to control in the next four MIDL Mindfulness Trainings beginning with MIDL Mindfulness Meditation 3/52 which is concerned with developing your softening skill by first retraining any stress based breathing patterns.

For now it is enough to just observe this relationship of control appearing within your breathing and relax any commentary in the background in regards to whether it is right or wrong. If you find that mindfully observing in this way causes too much restlessness then stop doing the softening breaths during this meditation and just mindfully observe and relax as you scan through your body.


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