Your Goal: Joyful presence of body with calming of habitual forgetting.
"Monks, whoever develops & pursues mindfulness immersed in the body encompasses whatever skillful qualities are on the side of clear knowing." the Buddha MN 119
Back: Article: Applying the GOSS Formula.
Next: Meditation 05: Natural Breathing.
Your fourth step as an insight meditator is to develop a joyful presence, by bringing the pleasure of mindful presence within your body into your mind. This completes the foundation created by Meditation 01--4 for the GOSS Formula.
Joyful presence is the happiness and joy that arises within your mind when you are mindfully aware of the subtle pleasure of letting go.
Joyful presence is developed by tuning into the subtle pleasure of letting go within your body, breathing, or mind.
It is accessed by gently smiling with your eyes into its pleasure to allow it to fill your mind.
When the subtle pleasure of letting go fills your mind, your awareness will become brighter, and a feeling of happiness & joy will grow.
As happiness and joy grow, a corresponding feeling of contentment will develop in your emotional heart & body.
This is when meditative joy transforms into a joyful presence.
From this stage onwards, it will be your task to find and cultivate a joyful presence during daily mindfulness of breathing and in your everyday life.
Your purpose is to make this joyful presence a habitual dwelling place for your mind in all aspects of life.
Joyful presence and insight.
When your mind grasps anything: wanting, not-wanting, striving, achieving, the conditions for meditative joy and joyful presence will cease.
Since joyful presence is only accessible through the pleasure of letting go, your ability to access it during meditation and daily life will directly reflect clinging within your mind.
This relationship between grasping, letting go, and the ability to access joyful presence creates the conditions for deep insight into attraction and aversion within your mind.
As the growing pleasure of physical & mental relaxation increases due to letting go, you will naturally increase your awareness of sensations and presence within your body. Gently smiling into it with your eyes, this pleasure will be absorbed into your mind, arising as a joyful presence.
Your meditation is the same as Meditation 03, except you now focus on accessing the pleasure of letting go within your body & mind to bring the happiness & joy of letting go to your mind.
Step 1: Sit down for meditation on a chair or the floor and gently close your eyes. Use slow, softening breaths to relax and establish presence in your body as in Meditation 03.
Explanation: Meditation 04 Additions.
Step 2: Listen to then relax your interest in the sound, allowing your awareness to narrow to your body, feeling the pleasure of letting go.
Step 3: Experience your whole body, then soften your interest in experiencing it, allowing your awareness to sink into warmth & coolness, feeling the pleasure of letting go.
Step 4: Experience warmth & coolness in your body, then soften your interest in experiencing it, allowing it to sink to pressure & touch, feeling the pleasure of this letting go.
Step 5: Experience pressure & touch, then soften your interest in experiencing it, allowing your awareness to open to your whole body as one felt experience, feeling the pleasure of this letting go.
Step 6: Gently smile with your eyes into the pleasure of letting go of everything and allow it to enter your mind as happiness & joy. Observe how this complete letting go naturally grounds awareness within your body.
Step 7: Take advantage of any wandering of your attention away from this grounding point to cultivate your perception of the anatta (not-self) autonomous nature of your mind by noticing how this wandering of your mind happens: by itself.
To do this apply the GOSS Formula:
The fourth marker of mindfulness of breathing, the feeling of happiness & joy within your mind, naturally arises from the pleasure of mindful presence within 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.
Habitual Forgetting (04), Gross Wandering (05), Directed Thinking (06).
Antidote: Curiosity + applying the GOSS Formula to develop a joyful feeling of presence and contentment by smiling with your eyes into the pleasure of relaxing and letting go.
Reward your mind for bringing awareness back into your body by arousing within your mind and enjoying the pleasure of this presence.
Meditation techniques for weakening hindrances:
You can learn these traditional techniques and add them to your meditation.
You are ready to progress to Meditation 05: Natural Breathing when:
In this simple map you can observe that when practicing Meditation 04 (blue line) the main hindrances to your meditation will be Habitual Forgetting, Gross Wandering and Directed Thinking.
The Experiential Marker: Joyful Presence, developed by Meditation 04 is the method you should use to calm/weaken the present hindrance.
Your understanding of softening can now be brought into your daily life (mindfulness of breathing soon), as a way of softening/relaxing the effort that underlies any distractions or reactions.
From the foundation of mindfulness of your body, as you learned in Meditation Skill 01, you can start to observe how the experience of your body changes throughout the day as a direct reflection of your state of mind.
What is meant by 'direct reflection of your mind', is that your current state of mind can be observed by your body's reaction to it.
All the different emotions and feelings of pleasantness and unpleasantness you experience in your body are manifestations of your mind.
Begin to observe all of these as helpful reflections so that you clearly know how you are relating to life.
Applying your GOSS: ground --> observe --> soften --> smile formula will help to relax any of these resistances and gradually weaken them over time.
Tip 1: Use simple reminders.
Use a simple reminder, like walking through a doorway, washing your hands, or having a cup of tea, to check in on how you feel.
Tip 2: If you feel stressed.
You will notice experiences within your body as tension, and tightness in your throat, chest, or belly if you are resisting something. This will also have a feeling of unpleasantness or unease.
Take slow softening breaths as you learned in: Meditation Skill 02 to lower this stressed feeling.
Tip 3: If you feel anxious.
When you feel anxious, ground your awareness by feeling your feet touching the ground. You can also ground by gently squeezing one hand in the other to make you more present.
Next, place your palms below your belly button and use slow softening breaths in your lower abdomen, like in the previous meditation, to re-engage your diaphragm.
Re-engaging your diaphragm with slow belly breaths will lower the anxious feeling.
From your foundation of GOSS, you can begin to train attention skills learnt in seated meditation, into your daily life.
Meditation 04 in Daily Life:
Question: After working on this for about a week now, I’ve discovered that softening only feels pleasant with certain sensations as opposed to others. Softening into the sensations of the body for instance almost always leads to pleasure. Softening into sounds and temperature just makes me feel neutral. Is this a problem on my part?
Furthermore, I’m wondering what the difference is between dullness and pleasure I get from softening into sensations?
Stephen: To understand what you are experiencing we need to define the difference between relaxing and softening.
"...Softening into the sensations of the body for instance almost always leads to pleasure..."
Our body is full of sensations and these sensations directly reflect effort held within our body and mind. The pleasure that you experience in this case is the pleasure of relaxing effort within your body. As effort is relaxed within the body it always feels nice.
"...Softening into sounds and temperature just makes me feel neutral...."
Softening is related to relaxing the focus of attention as it rests on an experience. This relaxing of focus releases the habitual grip of attention. When this grip is softened the relationship of the mind of liking or not liking is also relaxed, this is what creates the experience of neutrality.
As you soften in this way there is however a hidden pleasure. Not the one found in the object of your attention, but rather one found in the releasing of effort within your mind, relaxing your interest in it, letting it go.
This pleasure found within the mind is a more subtle pleasure then relaxation of your body. It is the pleasure of putting down something that is felt to be heavy, the pleasure of going on a holiday, the pleasure of relief.
This pleasure can only be found within the mind, not the body, and is known as sukha: joy & happiness. This pleasure in the mind is independent of the object of attention and is always available when the mind has let go.
Being of the mind, this pleasure can be enhanced by gently smiling into it with your eyes, falling in love with it, developing intimacy with it, in the same way you would smile at someone you're really love to let them know how much you care.
Learning to tune into this pleasure is like learning a new language. At first no pattern can be seen and it is only sound, but with practice a pattern becomes clear, and the mind focusses on the meaning rather than the sound. In the same way gradually, the mind focusses on the pleasure of letting go, basks in it, enjoys it, rather than the release of the object of attention.
This perception is what is being trained in Meditation 04: Joyful Presence.
"...Furthermore, I’m wondering what the difference is between dullness and pleasure I get from softening into sensations?..."
Since softening relaxes the focus of attention, softening makes attention dull. This relaxing of focus is necessary to release the minds habitual grip on objects.
To brighten the dullness that comes from softening it is necessary to train the mind to perceive the pleasure of letting go. Then when the mind releases the focus of attention it becomes aware of the pleasure of that release in the background peripheral awareness of the body.
It is this process that creates the circular nature of the GOSS Formula: Ground > Observe > Soften > Smile > Ground > .....
Question: I was wondering if anyone had any advice on how to approach downturns such as this - where joy and pleasure feel far away while practicing. Is it best to just experience and note the absence of joy, or to observe and understand these experiences?
Stephen: It is importantly to recognise that when practicing insight meditation based on the pleasure of letting go, such as MIDL, that your mind will naturally go through three cycles:
• calm: samatha phase > insight: vipassana phase > letting go: sila phase > ......
• = calm > insight > letting go > calm > insight > letting go > .....
This is a naturally cycling that your mind will enter when your meditation is based on letting go of effort and control.
The development of the pleasure of letting go and calm that comes with it that you developed earlier has two important purposes:
When number 2 develops and clarity of your awareness increases, your mind will naturally start to clearly comprehend anicca and anatta and become disturbed by it. It will start to fear that it is not in control and start grasping after experiences to find stability.
This leads to a collapse of samatha based calm, and a restless mind that feels out of control.
While this feels uncomfortable, your mind has simply entered a vipassana based insight phase.
Trying to get back to experiencing the pleasure of a samatha-based calm phase is pointless since this pleasure is only accessed through letting go.
When the mind enters an insight phase it will grasp onto everything to find some stability because of the perception of anicca and anatta, this includes the idea that pleasure, calm and stability of attention should always be present.
What to do
The first thing to acknowledge is meditative joy and the pleasure of letting go will be inaccessible when grasping is present, it is only accessible when your mind is letting go of ownership and control.
Understanding this clearly defines the meditative path.
When in an insight phase you will not be able to access Joyful Presence in Meditation 04, and this is perfectly ok. Your meditation will tend to cycle through the first three experiential markers: 01: Body relaxation. 02: Mind relaxation. 03: Mindful presence.
Your focus is on developing mindful presence as a viewing platform for the anatta nature of your mind. This begins with finding relaxation and ease within your body.
While the pleasure of letting go is not accessible at this stage, relaxation of effort within your body is. Begin your meditation session by taking your time and relaxing effort held within your body part by part. Your task is not to relax tensions but rather held effort.
As you relax effort held within your shoulders, chest, belly, arms etc., it will feel good. Tune into the ‘it feels good’ in this relaxation. As you relax in your body you will feel more present. Begin to notice and relax any mental effort held within your mind. Effort to be mindful, effort to do anything at all.
As you do you will become very mindfully present within your body. Enjoy this presence.
Your only task now is to observe the whole show mindfully from your body. If your mind is restless it doesn’t matter. If your mind thinks it doesn’t matter. Simply notice how it is all happening by itself.
If your attention wanders and you become lost within thinking it also does not matter, this is simply another opportunity to notice how your mind does things autonomously by itself.
As soon as you notice observe the returning of mindfulness of your body. Notice the held effort in your body and mind, and soften back into your body, noticing how nice it feels. For a short time, smile into and enjoy the returned mindful presence. Nothing to do, nowhere to go, how nice this feels.