I am giving these series of talks to help clarify the path of MIDL.
CLICK HERE Audio Version of this Talk
When beginning your seated MIDL mindfulness meditation practice, the first training that you do is concerned with immersing your awareness within the sensate quality of your body. The Buddha called this Kaya Gata Sati, so Kaya is body or bodily sensations, Gata is immersion, and Sati is Mindfulness.
This immersion of awareness within our body is practiced in exercises 1/52 and 2/52 in the MIDL Mindfulness Training Series. This immersion of awareness within our body is covered in different stages during our seated meditation. Since MIDL stands for Mindfulness in Daily Life, it comes with the understanding that when we sit down to meditate, we bring the busyness of our life with us. So the skill of immersing awareness within our body has the first benefit of allowing our mind to settle down.
The first thing that you turn your attention towards is not the breath, but rather the feeling of just sitting here. So just notice what it feels like for you just to sit here now. What does it feel like just to be here?
Be aware of the different sensations in your body, the feeling of the chair, the cushion, the floor. Be aware of the general sounds around you. And you hold this is a very gentle, very soft way, not forcing your mind to be anywhere, giving it space to move, to run. As you do this, you’ll start to ground in that feeling of just being here.
In the next stage in MIDL seated meditation, we actually widen our awareness, very wide, we widen it out to sound. This widening of awareness gives our mind space, allows it to further settle down. When you bring your awareness out to sound, you stay with the sound. Not what the sound is about, but rather focusing on the change within the sound, focusing on its flow, its rhythm, how it comes and goes.
Listening to me speak now, you’ll notice that the sound of my voice is a rhythm, a flow. If you pay attention to every time a word ends, the ending will bring you into stillness, the ending will start to calm your mind, it will settle it down. Being with the sound is really important, if the sound is distracting to you. If the sound is distracting you try to ignore it, you try to fight it, you’ll just become mentally agitated, more restless.
In MIDL whenever anything distracts our attention, draws our attention away from our meditation object, then that distraction becomes our object of meditation. So sound is turned into that object of meditation by staying on its changing nature, noticing how it flows, it comes, it goes. When you make distraction the focus of your attention, it is no longer distraction, it’s just something else in the field of your awareness. Holding sound in this way, you’ll start to develop some initial concentration.
Once the sound no longer draws your attention, then you relax and allow your awareness to go within. The first quality to pay attention to within your body, is any feeling of warmth or coolness. Warmth and coolness are dominant within all our bodies. When using it as a meditation object, you don’t have to be aware of both. The feeling of warmth may be more dominant to you, or the feeling of coolness may also. Whichever is present to you, just keep it in mind, hold that feeling of warmth or coolness and generally, within your body continuously.
At this stage you use that feeling of warmth or coolness as a grounding or anchoring point, a point from which to observe when your mind moves. In particular when your mind moves off to a thought, a fantasy, a dream. The grounding point of this warmth or coolness in your body is very important.
Our mind has the ability to transport us between past, present and future. It creates its own reality. The sound around us, the warmth or coolness within our body, can only be experienced now. We can’t experience them in the past or the future. So whenever we use a grounding point in meditation, it always has to have the quality of nowness, of being here, now, present, a grounding point. So we ground within the elemental quality of our body, we ground within the sound around us.
So this next stage is holding that feeling of warmth or coolness in mind, and just observing with interest every time you forget it, every time you get lost in a thought. And when you do, that’s ok, that’s what the mind does: it thinks, it narrates on the world around us and our place within it. Whenever you notice you’re lost in a thought, don’t get upset, that’s just being lost in thought even more. Instead, just notice, acknowledge that you’ve wandered off, relax, and come back to that feeling of warmth or coolness.
As the concentration grows and your mind settles down even more, we then bring our attention down to points of touch, it may be the touch of your hands touching each other, the feeling of your arms resting on your legs, the touch of your body pressing against the chair or the floor, the touch of your feet on the floor. Hold these points of touch continuously in mind, this is the next grounding point. Again we use a grounding point. This time using the point of touch is a grounding point to observe when our mind moves. This observing of attention move, observing of when our attention moves to a thought, to a sound is the developing the MIDL skill of observing the mind itself.
Where is your attention sitting now?
Where is the center of your awareness?
Awareness can be quite a large field. It can hold many things. but the center of our awareness shifts around. If we don’t notice it move, if we don’t notice when it shifts, we become lost in what we are aware of. This is a skill in MIDL of staying on the wild horse’s back. We can train the horse by tying it to a post, allowing it to kick and bark until it starts to settle down, or we can learn to become good at riding horses. We can untie the horse, let it loose, and develop the skill of staying on its back, developing the skill to observe the horse move so we can understand horses, so we can become skilled at riding horses. In the same way in MIDL, we use these grounding points to observe the mind move, to observe its functions, to get to know our self, to understand ourselves better.
MIDL is a path of self- inquiry, we learn to stay on the mind’s back without falling off. Once you feel very grounded, then you widen your awareness to take in your whole body, just feeling your whole body sitting there, the warmth, the coolness, the points of touch, just becoming very very aware of them. You can take a few gentle breaths at this point, just allow yourself to start to relax in your body. You’re just slowly breathing through your nose, deep into your belly and you exaggerate that out breath, allow the out breath out very very slowly, and relax your awareness into your body. You breathe in, filling your body, you slowly breathe out and you relax into it. You may need to take 5 or 6 relaxing breaths in this way, allowing your awareness to immerse fully into your body.
At this stage, the next grounding point will appear when you relax, that’s the grounding point of heaviness. When we’re fully relaxed, a heaviness element appears. It appears as a feeling of gravity pulling us down, but our actual experience of gravity pulling us down is heaviness, becoming very very heavy, relaxing deeply into our body. As this heaviness grows, a relaxation grows, you allow yourself to mentally sink into your body, mentally sink deeply into it, deeply, so deeply.
When awareness is immersed fully within our body it’s as if we are becoming aware though our body or our body is becoming aware though itself. The sensate quality of the body becomes very obvious to us. This becomes our main grounding point and we’re becoming our main viewing platform for mindfulness and breathing and also become the foundation for observing when our mind moves to observe and get to understand when it interacts with anything. At this stage to move into mindfulness of breathing we’d relax our chest and belly, allow our breathing to flow freely, just feeling the breathing as a calmness of sensations that moves up and down within the sensate quality of our body, within the groundedness of our body.
So this is the task of exercise 1/52 “Grounding Your Attention” in the 52 MIDL Mindfulness Trainings. This grounding of awareness within the body also has another effect. Through training the ability of becoming aware of the sensate quality of our body, in learning how to observe the mind move, these two skills naturally transfer into daily life. We’ll find we’re at work, at home, with the children, with friends, and we’ll find that the grounding will naturally appear, will naturally become very very present.
This will give you the ability to observe yourself, the way you interact with your children, interact with work, interact with your life. Sensitivity to these interactions, in particular attraction and aversion, and the emotional qualities that arise within our body, is a large part of MIDL. So this initial training of grounding awareness within the body is very very important.
The second MIDL exercise 2/52 “Experiencing Your Whole Body” is developing these key MIDL skills. The ability to accurately move your awareness throughout your body. So by placing your awareness in one part of your body, being aware of the sensate quality there, relaxing into it, and then moving into the next, you’re actually developing the accuracy of your attention. Keep this in mind when you are doing this exercise.
The next skill that you’re developing when you are doing this is the sensitivity to the sensations within your body. All of us have many parts of our body that are closed, literally, our mind doesn’t want to feel the sensate quality or the emotions that are held there. Through gently moving our awareness through our body very accurately, and observing what sensations are there, then what happens is these parts of our body with practice will start to open up and the multitude of sensations and emotions within our body will become very very clear to us.
The third skill we develop in exercise 2/52 is a first initial introduction to softening. We accurately move our attention through our body part by part, we feel the sensate quality there, and using slow gentle breaths, we just allow ourselves to relax deeply, relax deeply into the sensate quality, relax deeply our relationship to those sensations. Relaxing our relationship to those sensations is the key here.
So practicing these two exercises, the skill of grounding your attention and the skill of experiencing your whole body will open up a whole world of sensations within your body, you’ll immerse your awareness within your body and create a strong foundation for MIDL mindfulness meditation 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