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Introduction to MIDL Mindfulness Meditation


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MIDL Talk 3. MIDL Mental Factors Explained

I am giving these series of talks to help clarify the path of MIDL.

CLICK HERE Audio Version of this Talk

During this talk I would like to discuss how the Three Mental Factors of Investigation, Mindfulness and Concentration function with Awareness in MIDL Mindfulness meditation practice. In terms of MIDL, we are cultivating these Mental Factors with the intention of creating the conditions for Wisdom into the nature of reality to arise.

Before we look at these Mental Factors and how they function I think it is first important to understand what the Buddha meant by ‘meditation’. The Pali word that the Buddha used for ‘meditation’ is Bhavana. Bhavana is a term that means 'developing', 'cultivating'. Bhavana is not about sitting still doing nothing, it is an intelligent activity during which we intentionally cultivate the conditions for certain mental factors to grow and develop.

The process of creating the correct conditions in our MIDL meditation practice can be understood by observing the cultivation of a tree to produce fruit. First we need a healthy seed; we then condition the soil, creating a good foundation for the seed to grow. Next we plant our seed within this soil and add water so that it can start to sprout.

Our task from this time on is not to make the seed grow but rather to apply the right amount of water, right amount of food, light, protect the young tree as it grows from wind, from bugs, from animals. If the conditions are poor the tree will become stunted, imbalanced, it won’t produce fruit. If the conditions are balanced the tree will become strong and in maturity it will produce fruit.

In understanding this the healthy seed is our view, if our view of life is based on separation and we don’t see the consequences of our actions, then we start with an unhealthy seed and our meditation practice will not develop. The conditioned soil in which the seed grows is Awareness immersed within the sensate quality of our body. The balance of water, food and light is the balance of Investigation, Mindfulness and Concentration.

Investigation waters and quenches the thirst of the heart, it gives rise to understanding. Mindfulness feeds the practice, without Mindfulness our mind will look for food elsewhere and chew on distraction. Concentration increases clarity, it provides the light for Wisdom to grow. If we have too much water, too much food or too much light our meditation will not grow in a healthy way, it will not produce the fruit of Wisdom. If there is balance between Investigation, Mindfulness and Concentration, then on maturity, Wisdom will arise and when bitten into will have the sweet taste of freedom.

Protection within our meditation practice from wind, from bugs, from animals, comes from the interaction between Mindfulness and Softening. Mental agitation is like the wind, blowing us this way and that, Softening into the agitation protects us. Negative thoughts are like bugs biting and sucking the life out of us, Softening the frontal lobes of the brain protects us. Attraction and aversion to pleasant and unpleasant feeling are like wild animals tearing us apart mentally and emotionally, Softening into our bodily sensations protects us.

Investigation in MIDL Explained

Understanding this analogy lets now understand Investigation, Mindfulness and Concentration in terms of MIDL meditation practice. The Pali word that the Buddha used for Investigation is Dhamma Vicaya. Dhamma Vicaya means Investigating Reality. MIDL is a Wisdom practice. It is Wisdom that develops the momentum of this practice; it is Wisdom that changes our relationship to what we are experiencing, it changes the way that our mind perceives the world. This is a path of self enquiry, a way of looking inward, of getting understand ourselves in terms of reality by applying the mental factor of Investigation.

Investigation is an intentional silent watching, a silent observing, a silent experiencing of reality through the touch of awareness. This touch of awareness is similar to placing your hand through a hole in a wall and ‘feeling’ what is there with your fingers to develop understanding about it. During MIDL training we learn how to ‘mentally touch’ each experience, feeling it with our mind by rubbing awareness against it.

Through the continued experiencing of the same thing again and again and again, with the desire to understand, a pattern starts to emerge and the conditions for Wisdom to arise are developed. Continued Investigation of experience causes the second Mental Factor of Mindfulness to cultivate.

Mindfulness in MIDL Explained

The Pali word for Mindfulness is ‘Sati’, which 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.

If we break down the word ‘Mindfulness’ we can start to get a picture of what is meant in terms of our meditation practice. First let’s look at the meaning of ‘Mind’ in Mindfulness. ‘Mind’ in this context means ‘to look after’, ‘care for’, ‘to protect’; it can also be used as ‘to keep in mind’ – ‘to remember’. When we add ‘ful’ to the end of ‘Mind’, we could use it in a sentence as “Be Mindful of ………..” If you were crossing a road I might say to you: “Be ‘Mindful’ of the traffic, keep the traffic in ‘Mind’ when you cross the road.”

If we forget the traffic as we cross the road we are in danger of being hit. If we forget our present experience we are in danger of reacting in a way that will lead to suffering. In this way Mindfulness protects us. Mindfulness protects us from creating future pain. When ‘ness’ is added to the end of a word it means to be ‘in a state of’’, ‘to dwell within’, it makes it active, continuous. For example if we are continuously happy, we would then be experiencing happiness, we would live within it. So ‘ness’ in Mindfulness means ‘a continuous state of being Mindful, our dwelling place, where we live’.

To help you understand this, sit down, place one hand in the other, close your eyes and see how long you can sit there and remember the touch of your hands before your mind wanders off. Every time your mind wanders off to a thought, wanders off to anything without you noticing, in that wandering you have literally forgotten ‘now’. You have forgotten you are just sitting here, you have forgotten your meditation object.

It is the task of Mindfulness to know where the centre of our awareness sits, to notice any wanderings of attention, to notice every time we forget our present experience. Actually in the context of MIDL meditation, Mindfulness needs distraction to cultivate, which is why this practice can be done in daily life.

Once enough Fixed Concentration has been developed in MIDL practice we need to give up our attachment to our meditation object such as breathing and intentionally allow our mind to wander. Do not be afraid of letting go of control of your mind, it is only when we release our grip on it and allow it to wander where it wants to that we can start to observe the Four Foundations of Mindfulness to develop Wisdom. One of the skills being developed in the 52 MIDL trainings is the ability to observe our mind wander – to stay on the wild horses back.

If we use distraction in the right way, that is, to try to observe when we are distracted, the Mindfulness factor will become very, very strong, and our ability to notice when we are distracted will increase. Literally we can then notice, with strong Mindfulness, the moment our attention shifts from our meditation object and also any shifts of our attention in daily life.

Concentration in MIDL Explained

With continuous Mindfulness, Concentration, the Third Mental Factor will then cultivate. The Pali word for Concentration is Samadhi which literally means ‘to unify’, ‘to bring together’. Concentration is the unification of Vinanna: Awareness. 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: Desire to experience, Desire to not experience (attraction and aversion), Mental Restlessness, Mental Sluggishness and 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. Because Investigation, Mindfulness and Concentration are now strong and balanced, the Five Hindrances will no longer control our mind but instead can be used to cultivate Wisdom by observing them.

The second purpose of Concentration in our meditation practice is that it magnifies, it clarifies experience. The more concentrated we become the more magnified and clear experience becomes to us. 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. So observing the process of the Mental Factors in our meditation practice we can see that Investigation, the applying and rubbing of our awareness against the meditation object and observing the movement of attention away from it, stimulates Mindfulness. As Mindfulness becomes stronger through noticing our attention move, our attention becomes more constant thereby stimulating the development of Concentration and clarification of Awareness.

The Pali word for Awareness is Vinnana. Awareness literally means ‘consciousness, ‘awareness of an object / experience’. Whenever we experience anything through any of our Six Senses, the knowing of the experience that is present is Awareness. During meditation practice our task is to continuously remember Awareness of our meditation object.

Awareness in MIDL Explained

Awareness in its essence is pure, clear, still, but it can literally be Coloured by Emotional Responses (Kilesa) when they are triggered by our relationship to any experience that arises at the Six Sense Doors. This Colouring from Emotional Response, when it is present, alters the lens through which we perceive the world. “Literally the perception of the world we live in changes.”

This is the problem that we encounter in our meditation practice and daily life, for all of us are always looking out through these colourings, through the Five Hindrances. This is why we initially concentrate Awareness so that we can suppress these colourings, so that Awareness becomes clear and we can observe reality, free from colouring to develop understanding and Wisdom.

It is important in MIDL practice to understand the difference between Mindfulness and Awareness. Awareness (Vinnana) and Mindfulness (Sati) are two separate mental factors. Mindfulness remembers where Awareness sits and Awareness is the knowing of an experience. Continuous remembering, (Mindfulness), of our present experience causes Awareness to concentrate, this is the relationship between these two mental factors and why Mindfulness is so valued in the tradition.

The difference between Mindfulness and Awareness can be understood in this story. Imagine you will be going away on a holiday soon: Tropical Island, sandy beach, sitting under a coconut tree with a cocktail in your hand. You are walking down a crowded street and start thinking about your holiday enjoying this wonderful daydream. Then suddenly you are startled by feeling someone tap you on your shoulder, you jump and then suddenly notice your friend standing there. Hi, nice to see you, sorry I was just lost in a daydream. Your friend asks you what your daydream was about, could you tell them?

Yes of course, because there was awareness in the daydream.

Did you know that you were standing on a busy street when you were daydreaming? No, the whole world had disappeared because the factor of Mindfulness was not present. So unless we are unconscious Awareness is functioning continuously, continuously striking our Six Senses. The problem is that we do not know that Awareness is present in every sense experience; the task of Mindfulness is to remember this Awareness, to remember “I am aware of being aware of this”

To sum this up, during our meditation practice Investigation of reality develops interest and stimulates Mindfulness. Mindfulness continuously remembers Awareness causing it to Concentrate. As Awareness concentrates the Five Hindrances are suppressed and distraction is removed allowing clarity of mind.

Mental clarity allows us to see ‘experiences as they are’, free from judgement, free from colouring, thus allowing us to develop deep understanding in regards to their true nature. This understanding arises as Wisdom which then changes our minds relationship to sensory experience. With this change of relationship our mind neither grasps nor pushes away any experience and Equanimity of mind arises and matures – freedom is experienced.

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© Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved

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

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