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MIDL Mindfulness meditation follows a very specific and clear path of practice. This Path of practice was first mentioned by the Buddha as the basis for Satipatthana Vipassana – Mindfulness meditation, in his first talk called the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion.
He called this path the Noble Eightfold Path and it provides eight factors that need to be brought to maturity by the meditator. Our task during MIDL Mindfulness meditation is to cause the Noble Eightfold Path to start to spin, this is the wheel of Dhamma turning.
There is a common belief today that Mindfulness by itself is enough, that it cures all mental ills, this comes from a misunderstanding of Mindfulness meditation practice and the functioning of the mind and heart. For maturity to be reached all eight factors are necessary, they not only define our path of practice but also the expression of what a fully mature human being looks like.
When beginning meditation practice we always start with view. If you did not believe that meditation could give you a benefit in some way, be that an escape from pain or a way to experience pleasure then you would not have come to meditation. Because your view shifted and aligned in this direction you then felt an attraction towards trying meditation.
This is what is known as Immature Right View, it is immature because it is based on escaping from suffering. This is how I started meditation, this is how most of us start, we see meditation as offering something to us that is missing within our life.
This Immature Right View of suffering and the possibility of escape is a motivating factor, it is necessary to make us take the first step on the path. If we do not understand that there is suffering within life and that meditation offers an end to it then we will just keep chasing happiness in external pleasures and not realise that the way out is to go deeply within.
With proper guidance and a correct meditation technique we may start to experience benefits within our meditation practice. We then start to feel that meditation may be real and that it offers a way out, a way of making changes in the happiness levels within our life.
This then inspires us to practice more, we are encouraged to investigate our experience, understanding starts to arise and gradually our view starts to change. We start to see the interdependence of all experience, we see that everything arises due to specific conditions and that everything ceases dependant on specific conditions – we start to see our responsibility for our own happiness.
The path factor of Right View only starts to mature when we come to understand that what we are experiencing now and the way we are relating to it, is due to past conditions. We come to understand that everything we think, say and do has consequences, that it is not possible to do anything within this world without it having an impact on someone or something else. We start taking responsibility for the effects of our thoughts, speech and actions – ‘now’; we take responsibility for the effects of our thoughts, speech and actions in the past and also for their effects in the future.
We understand that our life situation ‘now’ is a result of our relationship to what we experienced in the past and that every choice we made led to the life that we are experiencing ‘now’. We stop looking outward blaming everyone and everything for our life situation and take full responsibility for it.
This is not to say that we were in control of these past choices - we weren’t – we were habitually reacting to escape pain and experience pleasure. But taking full responsibility for these choices, fully owning our life situation ‘now’, empowers us and gives us the ability to turn our life around, in a different direction.
Taking full responsibility for how we are now and understanding that we literally practice ourselves, practice our personality, practice our habitual tendencies. Understanding this we become very careful in the way we relate to what we are experiencing now. We understand that the past is fixed, it cannot be changed, the future is yet to be, and right now is already here, it is fixed, we cannot change it. We then focus on our relationship to what we are experiencing now; it is within that relationship that defines our happiness and unhappiness.
If we resist what we are experiencing now then the next experience will be defined by that resistance and we will suffer. If we fully embrace and accept what we are experiencing now, Softening deeply into our relationship to it, then the next experience to arise will be defined by non-resistance and we will experience contentment and peace. We come to observe how our resistance to the past, present and future define us and form to create defensive aspects of our personality.
To be free from this we need to define a path of meditation to un-practice those defensive personality traits and habitual tendencies that cause separation and pain within our life. We need to define a clear path to tear down then rebuild ourselves in a way that leads to harmony and peace.
This then brings us to the second path factor, Right Intention. Right Intention in MIDL is an active part of the path; it defines what we do in meditation and our daily life. It can be defined by four intentions that we actively cultivate: The intentions to Abandon, Guard, Cultivate and Establish. These can be understood as:
1. To develop and act upon the intention to abandon any unwholesome qualities of heart or any unskilful thought, speech or action that have already arisen.
2. To develop and act upon the intention to guard against the arising of any unwholesome qualities of heart or any unskilful thought, speech or action that have not yet arisen.
3. To develop and act upon the intention to cultivate the arising of any wholesome qualities of heart or any skilful thought, speech or action that have not yet arisen.
4. To develop and act upon the intention to establish any wholesome qualities of heart or any skilful thought, speech or action that have already arisen.
In MIDL these four intentions are applied in two layers: First to our formal seated meditation training and next to all our thoughts, speech and actions within our daily life. During our seated meditation practice our intention should be first focussed on Abandoning the Five Hindrances to Meditation: Desire to Experience, Desire to not experience, Mental Sluggishness, Mental Restlessness and Doubt as these paralyse our meditation practice.
We Abandon the Five Hindrances to meditation by developing the first MIDL Pillar of Flexible Attention so that we can observe when they are present and use the second MIDL Pillar: the Softening into skill, to deeply relax our mental engagement will them so that they are not being fed. Once the fuel is removed the Hindrances will start to weaken, this allows us to use the second intention of Guarding.
During this stage we Guard against the arising of the Five Hindrances and any unwholesome qualities of heart or mind that they produce such as obsessive thoughts, by acknowledging and deeply Softening our relationship to them. As they settle we can then Cultivate and Establish Wholesome and Skilful qualities of heart and mind such as Verified Faith, Investigation, Mindfulness and Concentration within our seated practice.
In MIDL seated meditation is only training, it is within daily life that the real Mindfulness meditation begins. During seated meditation we have some control over external conditions; within daily life we do not have that luxury. While meditating in daily life the triggers for the Five Hindrances are numerous and unpredictable.
Daily life is the playground of the Five Hindrances, any unwholesome qualities of heart and unskilful thoughts, speech or actions arising out of these will be dominant and within their element. Regardless this is what we have been training for and within daily life we follow the same Four Intentions. To make this easier when practicing MIDL it is necessary to divide all our emotions, thoughts, speech and actions into those that are defensive – that push away and those that combine – bring together.
It is quite a simple system, emotions, thoughts, speech and actions that push away are those that if we identify with and act on them they have the result of making us feel further away from ourselves, family, friends, society, the world. Emotions, thoughts, speech and actions that combine are those that if we identify with and act on them they have the result of making us feel closer to ourselves, family, friends, society, the world.
We Abandon those that separate by Softening Into the process when we notice ourselves reacting through it. At first we can only catch the end of the cycle but we Soften at that point and remove the residue of that reaction. With practice in Abandoning we catch the cycle of the reaction faster until we can catch and Soften Into its beginning. We are now at the stage of Guarding against its arising by Softening Into the beginning of the cycle.
Our next step in daily life is to Cultivate and Establish emotions, thoughts, speech and actions that combine. This will not come naturally, if we have spent our life cultivating emotions, thoughts, speech and actions that cause separation, then those that combine will be weak in us. This is where we need to go against our tendencies, make the intention to live a life that combines, unites, brings together. For this is a happy life, for ourselves and those around us.
Whenever you find an opportunity in your life to be loving, kind, compassionate, empathetic, generous or grateful in thought, speech or action, encourage that response. Softening Into the Wholesome and Skilful, positive qualities of heart and mind makes them stronger. Softening combines, positive qualities combine, so Softening Into the positive emotion, thought, speech or actions makes it develop and Establish as your natural way of being.
This then brings us to the next three path factors, Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood. If you have not guessed already, in MIDL the second path factor of Right Intention is applied to everything we think, say and do; our life. We observe our speech, we observe our actions and we observe the way we make our living with one question in mind:
Do they combine or separate?
In answer to that question we then Abandon, Guard, Cultivate and Establish – we refine the way we live our life. Happiness is not found on a meditation cushion, it is found in the way we live our life.
Often Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood is spoken of as the morality factors that we refine so that when we sit down in meditation we can settle the Five Hindrances and develop concentration. But I feel this is missing the point, the Buddha did not put these three factors at the beginning of the path, he put them right in the middle.
Because this is where the practice occurs, this is where our habitual patterns are found and this is where they are brought to an end. We actively Abandon, Guard, Cultivate and Establish within our life – seated meditation is supportive training.
Abandoning, Guarding, Cultivating and Establishing within seated practice and daily life stimulates the sixth path factor: Right Effort. Right Effort is about energy and balance, too much effort causes energy to rise and results in restlessness. Not enough effort causes energy to sink and results in mental sluggishness and low awareness.
The effort applied within our meditation practice needs to be balanced. Too much effort will increase energy levels and the mind will become restless, not enough effort and the energy level will become too low to sustain concentration of awareness and the mind will sink and become dull.
This effort is called Vitakka: applied attention and Vicara: sustained attention. Applied attention is the continuous effort to turn and apply our attention towards our object of meditation. It is the task of mindfulness to continuously remember to do this and to notice every time our attention wanders, in particular towards thinking..
Sustained attention occurs when energy is in balance through continuous application. At this stage awareness starts to stick to the object of meditation and initial concentration can occur. To develop sustained attention we literally gently apply and rub awareness on the object of meditation like polishing a brass pot. When awareness starts to sustain then application becomes effortless and interest arises within the mind.
In MIDL our initial object of meditation is the sensate experience of our sitting posture, we apply awareness to our posture until in sustains. This then creates the foundation for our next application of mindfulness of the sensate quality of breathing as it appears within our body.
Once our attention is sustained and the mental posture of mindfulness and concentration established, Right Effort then switches to developing the mental factor of Investigation. Investigation strengthens through applying awareness towards the Six Sense Doors and observing all experience that arises there in terms of the Three characteristics of Anicca: impermanence, Dukkha: suffering, Anatta: not- self. This then cultivates the perception of instability and impermanence clarifying the impermanent and impersonal nature of all experience and also clarifying the suffering that arises from mental grasping onto anything subject to change.
in this way Right Effort gives rise to then strengthens and balances the next two path factors of Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.
Mindfulness (Sati) The Pali word for Mindfulness (Sati) literally means ‘memory’ or ‘to remember’. It is a particular type of remembering, not remembering the past but remembering the present. During our meditation practice we will continuously forget the present; forget our meditation object, forget 'now' – this is what the mind does. Noticing this ‘forgetting’ is a function of Mindfulness.
Mindfulness is very important Mental Factor, actually without Mindfulness it would not be possible to meditate. We literally would become lost in the fantasy world of thinking and never come back. Mindfulness is also the morality factor, it allows us to self reflect, to observe and navigate the reactions of the heart and mind developing a sensitivity to what combines and what separates within our life.
The task of Mindfulness is to continuously remember the present experience and notice any time our attention moves away from it. Continuous Mindfulness then causes awareness to concentrate – become one pointed. Concentration is the eighth path factor.
When awareness concentrates the Five Hindrances are suppressed, it becomes clear and still, this clarity and stillness allows us to see reality clearly – as it is without judgement. Understanding develops and on maturity Wisdom arises.
Concentration (Samadhi) The Pali word for Concentration is (Samadhi) which literally means ‘to unify’, ‘to bring together’. Concentration is the unification of Awareness (Vinnana).
Concentration of Awareness has the effect of magnifying and clarifying our perception of experience. When our mind is free from the colouring of the Five Hindrances, we can observe reality through a clear awareness free from distortion to allow Wisdom to develop.
In MIDL Concentration has two main purposes; to suppress distraction and to clarify Awareness. Initially we use Concentration of Awareness to suppress the Five Hindrances to Meditation:
1.Desire to experience.
2. Desire to not experience (attraction and aversion).
3. Mental Restlessness.
4. Mental Sluggishness.
5. Doubt (the flickering mind).
This is done by developing one-pointedness of attention within an experience of bodily sensations such as breathing.
By staying with the experience of sitting still and keeping the movement of the breath continuously in mind, the Five Hindrances within our mind will settle down. When we first learn meditation these Five Hindrances are common visitors and often discourage people from continuing to meditate which is sad because with proper guidance the Hindrances are not a hindrance at all.
During this process of suppression of the Five Hindrances we have to be careful of how much concentration we develop in MIDL practice. Since Concentration has the ability to suppress our Six Senses, if we become too one-pointed in attention we will switch from practicing pure Mindfulness meditation – a Wisdom practice to Concentration meditation – a Tranquillity practice.
While each practice has its advantages and disadvantages, we need to, in MIDL, be very clear about why we are meditating. Is it to feel very peaceful while meditating on a cushion or is it to develop peace within our daily life. If peace within daily life is the answer to this question, then we don’t want to totally suppress our senses but rather observe our minds relationship to them to develop understanding and Wisdom.
Once some Concentration has been developed and our mind is temporarily free from the Five Hindrances it is time to switch from Fixed Concentration to Momentary Concentration: Khanika Samadhi. This is done by, ‘loosening our grip’ on our meditation object and allowing the Six Senses to reopen and the Five Hindrances to arise again.
The Five Hindrances then become the basis on which we develop Insight through observing their relationship to bodily sensations, feeling tone and mind at the Six Sense Doors in terms of the Three Characteristics as mentioned above in the Right Mindfulness section.
Wisdom then affects the first path factor Right View and changes the way we view reality. As our view changes, our understanding of the second path factor Right Intention also changes. We refine the way that we Abandon, Guard, Cultivate and Establish both in our seated meditation practice and daily life. This refinement is then applied to the third, fourth and fifth path factors: Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood to cultivate understanding and Wisdom. This in turn changes our relationship to our life and the way that we live.
Actively Investigating in this way the final three path factors Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration strengthen and refine, creating more clarity, understanding and giving rise to deeper Wisdom. This then again changes the first path factor of Right View and the Noble Eightfold Path starts to turn – the Wheel of Dhamma is set in motion. And as it spins it moves upwards in an ever tightening spiral until at its maturity the meditator themself embodies the eight path factors and their very being is an expression of this path.
And this then creates the path of MIDL from the beginning until full maturity of the practice.
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This article was written by Stephen Procter, Meditation Instructor from Meditation in The Shire, Kirrawee NSW, Australia. If you wish to post this article on another website or in a publication please respect the author and reference / link back to this website, thank you