Your Goal: Body awareness free from subtle wandering & restlessness.
“They train them self: ‘I will breathe in sensitive to the entire body.’ They train them self: ‘I will breathe out sensitive to the entire body’.” MN10 The Buddha
Back: Article: Noble Eightfold Path.
Next: Meditation 11: Sustained Awareness.
Your tenth step as an insight meditator is to introduce the meditative skill of shifting awareness from the foreground of the focal point of attention (one point of breath sensation), to the background peripheral awareness of the experience of your whole body as it breathes.
As you progress in mindfulness of breathing following the instructions in Meditation 09, you will find that your attention rests on one point of sensation for increasing lengths of time with very little effort.
When this effort to be aware of one point of breath sensation shifts to effortlessness, it will enter a flow state that is known as sustained attention. This simply means that your mind is now applying attention to your object of meditation by itself and that you no longer need to do anything to help it stay there.
When your attention sustains you can then withdraw energy from your attention and power up your peripheral awareness of the experience of your whole-body breathing to begin the process of calming experiences within peripheral awareness.
As stability of your attention on one point becomes firm and unmoving, you will gradually become more aware of the pleasurable experience of your whole-body as it breathes, enchanted by this, awareness will start to withdraw from the five physical sense fields.
Your intention is to clarify the difference between attention & peripheral awareness.
For this meditation it may be easier to use a guided meditation.
Your meditation is the same as Meditation 09, except you now switch from your attention on one point of breath sensation, to peripheral awareness of the experience of your whole body as it breathes.
Step 1: Sit down for meditation on a chair or the floor and gently close your eyes. Develop mindfulness of your body & joyful presence as in Meditations 03 & 04.
Step 2: Develop sustained attention on one point of breath sensation as in Meditation 09.
Meditation 10 Additions:
Step 3: Once attention has sustained, slowly open your peripheral awareness to the subtle experience of your whole body as it naturally breathes.
Step 4: Begin to be aware of any 'breathing movement' in your shoulders. The gentle lift, the gentle drop.
Step 5: You can then include the experience of 'breathing movement' in your upper chest and upper back. The feeling of the gentle stretch, the feeling of the gentle relax. Noticing how they expand and deflate in opposite directions is very helpful.
Step 6: Add the experience of the 'breathing movement' of the side of your ribs. Experiencing it from inside your chest. Everything expanding outwards, everything relaxing inwards. Gradually including your belly and lower back so that this becomes one big inflation and deflation.
Step 7: As samadhi develops on your breathing, the pressure of this expansion and deflation will also be able to be felt within your arms and hands, legs and feet, and even inside your head. ..........
Step 8: Gradually open your awareness to these sensations until you can experience them throughout your body. This will mature as the perception of the borders of your body fade away as a large, body-less, ball of pleasant feeling sensation. One ball of pleasant breath sensation.
Step 9: Maintain intimate awareness of just this whole-body breathing experience.
The tenth marker of mindfulness of breathing, peripheral awareness of breathing throughout your body, arises as a natural progression of sustaining your attention and increased sensitivity to the background field of peripheral awareness.
Meditative Hindrances are signs of an imbalance in either your effort or the structure of your attention and are seen as an opportunity for insight into your mind.
Subtle Instability (14).
You may experience instability in your attention as you transfer from sustained attention to peripheral awareness of your whole body as it breathes.
This may occur due to weakness in your ability to open your awareness while taking many experiences as one within one field of that awareness. This is like looking over a valley and taking in the whole view rather than focusing on one thing within that view.
The antidote to subtle instability is to become aware of breathing within your body part by part, as described in the above meditation instructions.
Once you are aware of breathing throughout your body, you then create a strong intention to be intimately aware of this experience.
With this intimacy you will begin to experience a fading of your sensory fields including the body sense, with bodily pleasure replacing sensations within your body. When your mind develops intimacy with this bodily pleasure, this instability will come to an end.
You are ready to progress to Meditation 11: Sustained Awareness when:
In this simple map you can observe that when practicing Meditation 10 (blue line) the main hindrances to your meditation will be Subtle Instability.
The Experiential Marker: awareness of Whole-Body Breathing, developed by Meditation 10 is the method you should use to calm/weaken the present hindrance.
Question: Since English is not my native language, I think I may be missing some subtleties of 'peripheral awareness' in translation.
Stephen: Think of peripheral awareness as the background awareness of all experiences that are occurring outside of the range of the focus of your attention.
Question: How do you know you have peripheral awareness of the body when the attention is on something other than the body?
Stephen: Because you will be aware of different experiences within your body such as warmth, coolness, touch etc. even though the focal point of your awareness, attention, rests on something else.
Question: Is it simply about 'know' that the body is present without forgetting it while you focus on X or Y?
Stephen: It can be but more than that. It is knowing the experience of the body rather than the idea body. The remembering and forgetting part relate to mindfulness and is not a definition of peripheral awareness.
Question: Is it something akin to proprioception?
Stephen: The position and posture of my body is known in my background (peripheral) awareness regardless of the task that I am performing...............
We become so absorbed in attention that we do not notice it unless there is a distraction, and our attention is drawn towards one of the objects occurring in this background awareness.
Question: Could you provide an example from your daily life or explain it differently so I can ensure I've grasped your meaning?
Stephen: You know that the music is playing in the background while you're cleaning the house, but your attention is focused on the cleaning not the music.