Your Goal: Mental calmness, free from mental agitation.
Your second step as an insight meditator is to learn how to bring the pleasure of relaxation of your body into your mind. You do this by learning how to relax your mental effort while smiling with your eyes into the subtle pleasure of letting go that occurs with each out-breath.
Softening is the meditative skill of gently relaxing effort within your mind and body to access the pleasure of letting go.
Because softening is concerned with letting go, it is always pleasurable.
With practice, the very act of softening effort within your body and mind naturally creates the conditions for the Enlightenment Factors of mindfulness, curiosity, balanced effort, and joy to arise.
The word softening in MIDL describes the observation during meditation of the transformation of the mental tightness, heaviness, and rigidity that comes from resistance into the softness, lightness, and pliability of acceptance.
As a MIDL meditator, your effort is towards accessing the pleasure of letting go and curiosity towards anything that hinders this pleasure from arising.
During Meditation 02, you will access the subtle pleasure of your body as it relaxes with each breath and learn how to bring it into your mind.
Cultivating the pleasure of letting go and abandoning all effort to develop 'mindful non-participation.'
Mindful non-participation is a structure of attention that neither grasps onto nor pushes away any experience.
By allowing yourself to relax with each out-breath, your mind will develop a tendency towards letting go.
Gently smiling into this pleasure with your eyes will allow it to enter and grow within your mind as meditative joy.
As letting go grows, calm & tranquility of mind will arise.
Your ability to soften effort will allow you to deal with difficult experiences without reacting to them during meditation and daily life.
As you continue to feel the pleasure of physically relaxing with gentle breathing, a sense of ease and contentment will fill your mind. Calming restlessness or concern with anything outside of meditation, your mind will begin to relax.
Your meditation is the same, except now you change how you breathe out by bringing mental relaxation to the slow body breaths you introduced in Meditation 01.
From the foundation of Meditation 01:
Meditation 02 addition:
With each out-breath:
Step 1: Sit in meditation.
Step 2: Take slow breaths to relax.
Meditation 02 Additions:
Step 3: Bring relaxation into your mind.
Step 4: Smile with your eyes.
You can try this now:
To understand Meditation 02, let a few slow breaths out through your nose now while focusing on relaxing the frontal lobes of your brain.
After each out-breath through your nose, pause and notice any feeling of mental relaxation.
When you notice the feeling of mental relaxation, increase it by relaxing your eyelids by allowing them to droop, in line with the out-breath.
Notice how letting a slow breath out through your nose and relaxing your eyelids increases your mental calm.
The second marker of mindfulness of breathing, relaxation of your mind, naturally occurs due to an increased sense of ease due to the growing pleasure of the physical relaxation of your body.
Meditative Hindrances are signs of an imbalance in either your effort or the structure of your attention. It is skillful to view them as an opportunity for insight into your mind rather than something to overcome.
Mental Restlessness (03).
Antidote: Curiosity + learning to calm your mind with slow breaths out through your nose while relaxing your eyelids.
You are ready to progress to Meditation 03: Mindful Presence when:
It is important to note that you will still experience thinking, mind wandering and forgetting at this stage of your meditation. These are signs of mental habits rather than mental agitation.
You can always return at any time to refine your skill in softening if needed.
The purpose of Meditation 02 is to learn how to join Soften --> Smile together as part of the GOSS Formula: Ground --> Observe --> Soften --> Smile.
Meditations 01-04 create a foundation for the GOSS Formula and mindfulness of breathing in Meditation 05.
In this simple map you can observe that when practicing Meditation 02 (blue line) the main hindrances to your meditation will be Mental Restlessness.
The Experiential Marker: Mind Relaxation, developed by Meditation 02 is the method you should use to calm/weaken the present hindrance.
Question: I got a flu and honestly, my awareness has been the dullest I can ever remember.
Stephen: I am sorry to hear that you are feeling unwell.
Yes, this is how it is and an opportunity for you to develop insight. While your awareness is dull, are you able to be aware of how unclearly aware you are? It is just knowing your state of mind, regardless of what it is, to learn about its natural nature, that you are developing as an insight meditator.
It feels frustrating because no stress event happened before, just many people being sick around me.
And yet it is happening because it is its nature, and it has one message:
"You don't own me, control me; let me go".
Question: I watch my frustration of course and try to apply the same principles as usual (softening, breathing, letting go) but it feels like nothing works.
Stephen: Your message: "it feels like nothing works", tells me that you are softening to make what you are experiencing change, to make it go away. If you are negotiating with what you are experiencing: I will soften. relax, if you change or go away to something that i want", then you are not letting go.
Softening is about noticing and relaxing the effort it takes for you to be frustrated with what you are experiencing. Softening is not concerned with what you are experiencing, but rather with your relationship towards it; always.
Look how much effort it takes to struggle and fight against reality. The universe if just as it is, what you are experiencing is also just as it is, how could it be any other way. The meditative path is not to try to change reality, but rather to embrace it by putting down all fight, all struggle with it.
It is our fight and struggle with illness that creates suffering, it is our fight and struggle with anything, when our expectation and reality don't match, that all suffering arises.
Question: I am currently waking up with an intense gut wrenching anxiety in the morning....).
Stephen: I am sorry to hear what you are experiencing and understand how unpleasant it is to be caught in an anxiety loop.
I can only comment as an insight meditator who has deconditioned their own anxiety and depression, and not as a health professional, so anything that I recommend here should just be seen as a sharing among friends.
Your mind has an immune system.
I find this a helpful way as an insight meditator to understand anxiety.
Our mind, like our body, has an immune system. When our body senses a danger, the immune system of our body turns on and fights the invader.
What was helpful to me was noticing that my mind also has an immune system and that what I was experiencing was not personal but rather an immune response.
When my mind senses danger it turns on the stress response and revs up the functions of my body and mind in preparation for fight or flight.
Seeing the experience as a natural survival response rather than something personal problem to be solved was helpful to me.
I tried to change this pattern in many ways to escape from the anxiety but didn't realise that my trying to fix it was creating a fear-based feedback loop where I became anxious about being anxious.
As understanding of anxiety being an immune system of my mind developed, I realised that what I was experiencing in my body and mind wasn't broken, it was working as intended.
There was nothing to fix, it was my very desire to escape from it that kept it going.
My path was therefore not to fix the problem but to learn how to help my mind and body to feel safe and it would all turn off by itself.
This is what I found helpful.
Our goal is to create gaps in this stress cycle, and gradually increase those gaps. This will significantly lower your symptoms and if followed through desensitise the sensitivity of your stress response.
There are three steps in MIDL to decondition this anxious response in daily life:
Step 1: In week 1-4 we will retrain your natural breathing patterns to diaphragmatic breathing. This means following very specific diaphragm breathing techniques that remind your body how to breathe in a non-stressed way.
Currently your mind keeps tricking your body into thinking it is in danger, so it responds. then the response in your body keeps tricking your mind that it is in danger, so it also responds.
You now have a self-feeding anxiety feedback loop, especially when your body habituates its stressed state.
This is practiced laying down on the floor (yoga mat, not bed) daily for 3-4 weeks until your breathing patterns change. (anything that is real takes time).
Retrain your breathing patterns: https://midlmeditation.com/meditation-for-anxiety
Step 2: On week 2 you will learn to use diaphragmatic breathing to relax, let go while sitting in a chair and how to re-engage your diaphragm when you notice it lock and stress breathing engage, in daily life.
This is also explained on the above webpage.
Reengagement of diaphragmatic breathing, with 5 gentle belly breathes in the way explained here, will create gaps within the habitual stress cycle throughout your day (starting with your morning) and will begin to weaken the cycle.
Use diaphragmatic breathing and softening to create gaps in your stress/anxiety response during your day.
Step 3: Optional: In week 3 or 4 you can begin to target painful past memories that are triggering your mind to feel unsafe, now, and deeply softening against unpleasant memories (trigger points) in a precise yet gentle way.
This will permanently remove the unpleasant feeling (vedana) from these trigger memories and bring anxiety to an end.
Caution: This is an advanced MIDL insight meditation technique and should be approached with caution. If you have not done the earlier training and developed your mindfulness, concentration and softening skills then you are likely to become lost within the emotional charge and resist the unpleasantness.
In this case you either need to commit to the MIDL systematic training or have someone skilled in this technique to guide you to develop this skill.