I am giving these series of talks to help clarify the path of MIDL.
CLICK HERE Audio Version of this Talk
The 52 MIDL Mindfulness trainings that we use today are an accumulation of all the skills that my teachers handed down to me as a way of balancing Investigation, Mindfulness and Concentration, during Mindfulness meditation practice. When you start your MIDL Mindfulness training, approach the formal seated meditation this way: during each exercise you are training a different meditation skill. The skills are tools that sit within your toolbox to be used to balance and strengthen Investigation, Mindfulness and Concentration.
The 52 MIDL Mindfulness trainings are not separate meditation practices, but rather, they all come together as one complete Mindfulness meditation practice. Each training includes different ways of structuring your attention, depending on what is being experience to this time. You are systematically developing the skill of meditation.
When you begin the MIDL Mindfulness training you can approach it through three separate doorways, depending on what you are current experiencing within your life. These three doorways align with the three MIDL Pillars of Flexible Attention training, Softening Into training and Allowing Stillness training.
You can then switch between each of these three trainings depending on which skill is needed to be developed. The current order of the 52 MIDL Mindfulness trainings found on the Insight Timer App and the Meditation in The Shire website are a set to training the pillar of Flexible Attention first. This then creates a good foundation for developing the Three Pillars of MIDL in a balanced way.
Exercise 1 of 52, Grounding Your Attention, is concerned with developing two main foundational skills; The primary skills of learning how to immerse awareness within the sensate quality of your body and the ability to observe every time your attention shifts away from it.
Exercise 2 of 52, experiencing your whole body, is also focused on developing two main foundational skills. This is the skill of developing sensitivity to the separate sensations within your body and to develop a flexible and accurate focus of attention. Exercise 3 of 52, Training Softening into breathing, and exercise 4 of 52, Skill of Softening Into, are focused on developing a basic softening skill that can be applied within your seated practice.
These softening skills for example can be used to relax control and also to calm the breath during Mindfulness of Breathing. They can also be used to relax your relationship to thinking, sounds, and sensations within your body or to weaken the Five Hindrances to Meditation, such as restlessness, sleepiness, mental sluggishness or doubt.
After these four first foundational trainings we move on to training in Mindfulness of Breathing. MIDL is very specific in how approaches Mindfulness of Breathing, as is not just based on developing the Mental Factors of Mindfulness and Concentration, but also in learning how to abandon the desire to control, how to temporarily suppress the Five Hindrances to Meditation and also to develop the perception of the whole body breathing as a basis for transference of Mindfulness of Breathing into daily life.
We begin our Mindfulness of Breathing training with MIDL 5 of 52, working with our habitual tendency to control experience. This appears quite clearly when we first turn our attention towards observing breathing. One of the main reasons breathing is used as a meditation object in MIDL is because it can happen naturally or be controlled intentionally. This allows us to approach breathing in three ways.
We can observe breathing as: breathing that is happening naturally - as autonomous breathing being controlled by our brain or as breathing that is controlled by resistance within the mind – stress breathing, (If breathing starts in the chest and moves downward, it can be known as stress breathing) and the third is intentionally controlled breathing, such as the MIDL Softening Into skill, which turns stressed breathing back into autonomous natural breathing again.
Once the natural breath can be observed free from control, we begin MIDL exercises 6 to 8 of 52 focusing on developing sensitivity to the sense quality of the beginning, middle and end of each breath cycle. It is important during this stage to observe your breathing by feeling it as a column of sensations moving up and down within the sensate quality of your body. The grounding of awareness within your body is your foundation, your anchoring in the storm and breathing is to be observed from it. Be careful not to become lost within your breathing by following it up and down but rather watch it from a distance through the sense of touch. Similar to standing on a mountain top watching the people moving around in the village. There is no need to go down and individually greet each villager. It is enough just to stand on the mountain top and watch and understand what is going on.
Once the Five Hindrances to Meditation have been suppressed, we change the way we experience the breathing. Instead of observing our breathing as it comes in and out we now observe how our body responds to breathing. As the breath comes into our body our body expands outwards and as our breath goes out of our body, our body contracts and relaxes inwards. This sensitivity developed in MIDL Mindfulness trainings 9 to 11 of 52 creates the foundation for MIDL Mindfulness of Breathing.
As our sensitivity to our body responding to the breathing develops, we begin to experience the breathing through out the whole of our body, even down to the tips of our toes. Every part of our body expands. Every part of it contracts. We do this not by controlling the breathing, but rather by just becoming sensitive to how our body responds breathing. As part of our MIDL training we use this expanding and contracting breathing to experience our six senses. On the in-breath, we ‘open’. We ‘open’ to whatever we are experiencing now. On the out-breath, we ‘soften and relax’. We ‘soften and relax’ into our relationship to whatever we are experiencing now.
In breath, ‘open’; out breath, ‘soften’.
In-breath ‘open’ to everything, whatever we are experiencing. It doesn’t matter; it might be restlessness or sleepiness. It might be sadness, it might be happiness. It might be calmness. We might feel anxious. Whatever is present, we ‘open’ with the in-breath.
Whatever is present, we ‘relax and soften’ our relationship to it on the out-breath. ‘Open, soften’. ‘Open, soften’.
We abandon all resistance and allow the Softening on the out-breath to draw the mind in deeply into the heart centre. Deeply into to the one place that it avoids but it desperately longs for. As we align and relax with the out-breath, not controlling it, but using it as a vehicle to relax our mind, to relax our body, it will draw us down to the end of the out-breath. When we become sensitive to the end of the out-breath, we sit in the gap. And we wait and relax for the in-breath to come in again. The breath goes out, we see it end – gap – in-breath begins. Developing in this way we end up seeing the end of the out-breath- gap, which increases in size, and the beginning of the in-breath. Your perception of breathing will disappear at this stage. You will just see:
Ending – gap - begin.
Ending – gap - begin.
The gap will become bigger, clearer, and more still, more peaceful. And this becomes the whole foundation, our viewing platform in our Mindfulness of Breathing practice. From the foundation of this viewing platform of Mindfulness of Breathing, we then observe whatever experience arises at of any of our Six Senses. The first training in this skill is started in exercises number 12 and 13 of 52. They are concerned with breaking down perception through learning how to tune into the elemental qualities of experience.
The next exercises in the development of MIDL skills are trainings 14 to 21 of 52. They focus on developing the MIDL skill of observing attention, thinking and emotions. Learning these skills refines the Mental Factors of Investigation, Mindfulness and Momentary Concentration, allowing us to observe when our mind interacts with anything during our seated meditation practice and also in our daily life.
We also develop the understanding that there is a corresponding reflection of any mental state within our body. Our mind’s relationship to the movement of attention, thinking, emotions: all appears as a reflection within our body. Our body responds to how our mind reacts.
Developing these skills of observing thoughts, emotions, reactions, brings us onto the MIDL training 22 of 52, which is the first of the targeted Deconditioning skills. This skill is considered a higher skill as it is trained by intentionally bringing to mind painful memories and observing the unpacking of the emotional response embedded within the memory, within the sense quality of our body. After identifying the different sensations that make up their emotional response, such as tightness, hardness, warmth, heaviness etc. we then learn to separate the Vedana, unpleasant feeling from the sensations of the emotion. We do this by Softening our response to the unpleasant feeling associated with the painful memory, relaxing deeply, so deeply that our mind perceives that right now is safe.
Our mind then removes the layers of unpleasant feeling from the memory until there is no unpleasantness attached to the memory at all. We are free from the past trauma. A word of warning on this: MIDL Mindfulness meditation is not a game. It is not about cultivating pleasure. It is a real meditation system that will change you, if you practice it.
MIDL mindfulness meditation follows a process of pulling ourselves apart and putting ourselves back together again, free from all defensive qualities of heart and mind, and so that positive qualities of heart and mind become our natural way of being. Since this practice is concerned with intentionally triggering the emotion response attachment to memories, we should approach with true caution and discretion.
The process of exposing our vulnerabilities can be quite confronting, it can be quite disorientating when we are in the middle of it. Having access to an experienced teacher and a community of fellow MIDL meditators, helps with direction and encouragement during the Deconditioning process.
We then come to trainings 23 to 25 of 52 in which we learn to structure awareness in three ways: by focusing it, expanding it and relaxing it. The skill of adjusting the structure of awareness becomes one of our main tools in MIDL for rebalancing energy and settling the Five Hindrances to Meditation. We use this in both formal practice and in daily life.
Trainings 26 and 27 of 52 are focused on learning how to carry the momentum of your Mindfulness practice through holding the Mindfulness momentum when changing postures. This is a necessary step in following the instructions in Satipatthana Sutta referring to continuing your practice regardless of the posture of your body.
A sign that a student of MIDL reached a level of maturity in their practice is not based on their ability to concentrate in one thing during seated meditation practice but rather on the inability to notice any difference between sitting in meditation and everything else. They also deeply understand that Mindfulness meditation is not a posture of the body but rather a posture of the mind, a posture of Investigation and Mindfulness that never leaves them.
Trainings 28 to 32 of 52 are focused on healing the heart. We are now at a stage of our MIDL practice where we are able to observe the qualities within our own heart from which we express our life. Literally we practice ourselves every day. We practice our personality. The question is: are these qualities of our personality defensive and based on the separating and pushing away or are they open and based on combining, bringing together?
If we are habitually pushing away, we will live a defensive, empty and unfulfilled life. If we are naturally combining, then we will live an open, inclusive, and fulfilled life. At this stage of MIDL practice we need to be very honest with ourselves. What is the nature of the qualities of heart that my life is expressed through?
Understanding this, then, clarifies what we need to Abandon and Guard in regards the qualities of heart that Separate and what we need to Cultivate and Establish in regards to qualities of heart that Combine.
This is then covered in a two fold strategy. In exercises 28 to 32 of 52 we intentionally cultivate posture quality of heart in formal seated meditation practice. Then supported by our seated meditation training the real cultivation of positive qualities of heart is done in everyday life.
Every time we notice an opportunity to be kind, loving, compassionate, generous or grateful, then we follow and encourage the intention behind it. During this process, we soften any fear or resistance found within the habitual closing of our heart and fully express the positive qualities . We also Soften Into the expression of the positive quality of heart allowing us to make a connection with others, we grow and establish it as part of our personality and natural expression.
We then move on to trainings 33 to 38 of 52. We are now focusing on developing and refining the second MIDL Pillar of Softening Into. MIDL Softening Into techniques teach the skill of Mindful Non Resistance. This allows us to be with unpleasant thoughts, emotions and situations without reacting through the desire to push away based on the unpleasantness of the situation.
This Mindful non participation stops us from practicing any negative qualities of heart that arise within us, leading to weakening and deconditioning of then. Softening Into if applied Mindfully to any possible qualities of heart, regardless of how weak they are within us, encourages them to grow and flourish ; like gently breathing onto a flame to make it burn more brightly.
This then brings us on to trainings 39 to 42 of 52, which focus on developing the Third Pillar of MIDL, Allowing Stillness. This is developed in a gradual process to train the mind to become comfortable with not doing. The skill of Allowing Stillness temporarily removes our armour, allows our mind to access a deep level of rest. In this deep level of non activity, of not doing, our mind can rest and repair itself.
One thing we need to remember when resting our mind: it doesn’t need our help, we just have to get out of the way. When our mind sinks below its normal habitual functions, it will naturally starts to heal, to repair itself. Also it learns to sink more deeply, to let go. Its defensive mechanisms based on fear will weaken. We will then experience softening of our personality. Training 43 of 52 focuses on developing the MIDL skill of being aware of being aware. Developing awareness of awareness it is a necessary step in the development of Mindfulness meditation. This can be accessed by focusing on the ‘Remembering of the Remembering of the Awareness of any experience’.
Once we can be aware of awareness itself, we can benefit by moving on to trainings 44 to 49 of 52. They are focused on developing sensitivity to our Six Sense Doors with the goal of transferring this ability into our daily life. Developing an immersion of a ‘Posture of Investigation and Mindfulness’ into the Six Sense Doors covers the full range of human experience and protects us throughout the day.
Also by observing the Six Sense Doors and how the interaction of the mind with them manifests as sensations and feelings within our body, we develop deep understanding of our habitually reactive existence and can be very accurate in the way that we apply the Second MIDL Pillar of Softening Into to decondition these patterns of response. This brings us back to the training of Calming Mental Activity in exercise 50 of 52. It is a sixty minute version with longer periods of silence to refine the skill of putting down any processes that our mind produces in order to allow it to return to its natural still state.
Trainings 51 and 52, then, provide a blank meditation in which you can practice your MIDL meditation skills with minimum guidance. So you can develop the MIDL skills in a free-form and unstructured way, you can make them your own. This free-form training then gives you the ability to refine your skills so that you are no longer reliant on guided meditations to meditate so that your MIDL practice will transfer into your daily life.
This then provides a complete layout for your 52 MIDL seated Mindfulness Meditation Trainings. When you complete the 52 trainings I recommend that you think about them as being a spiral and return to the beginning again. You will find that what first seemed to be a beginner’s training appears the second time through as a more advanced one. This happens every time you cycle through the series because the very nature of MIDL is a development of Wisdom and as your Wisdom develops so does your relationship to an understanding of the subtleties of each exercise.
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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