new Meditation menu added to introduction page
new Meditation menu added to introduction page
16/52: Changing Postures
17/52: Elemental Qualities
18/52: Observing Perception
19/52: Observe Attention 1
20/52: Observe Attention 2
MENU QUESTIONS 21 - 25
Your Question: Isn't mindfulness meditation only meant to be practiced sitting down? Moving during meditation doesn't feel peaceful to me.
Stephen Procter: The real benefits of mindfulness meditation are experienced through our ability to transition our seated meditation practice so that we can self-observe in daily life. A reference to this transition can be found in the original instructions on Satipatthana Vipassana (mindfulness meditation) given by the Buddha in the Satipatthana Sutta:
“Furthermore… when walking, the meditator knows: ‘I am walking.’ When standing, they know: ‘I am standing.’ When sitting, they know: ‘I am sitting.’ When lying down, they know: ‘I am lying down.’"
“Furthermore… when going forward or returning, they are fully aware; when looking toward or looking away...”
“When bending & extending their limbs...”
“When carrying their clothing and possessions...”
“When eating, drinking, chewing, & savoring...”
“When urinating & defecating...”
“When walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, & remaining silent, they do so with full awareness.”
From this we can clearly see that mindfulness meditation was never meant to be just a seated meditation practice and was always meant to be brought into daily life; to be lived. What is interesting is that when we look at the Satipatthana Sutta only a small part in the beginning of the Sutta is concerned with developing the mental faculties in seated meditation. After the section on mindfulness of posture Satipatthana practice becomes formless, posture being totally irrelevant.
Your Question: I can only experience some of the sensations that you mention during this guided meditation. How can I experience more?
Stephen Procter: During the guided meditation I may mention many different things that can be experienced, this is because guided meditations are generic in nature since they are recorded for the possible experience of many different people. If you do not experience certain sensations during your meditation then that is perfectly ok - it will not affect your meditation practice.
In MIDL mindfulness meditation whatever we are experiencing is always correct, our only task is simply to acknowledge whatever presents itself to us and soften / relax any attraction or aversion that arises within that relationship.
Your Question: What about pain or itchiness. Would you see them as the 4 elements, or something else?
Stephen Procter: Pain and itchiness are made up of a number of elemental qualities. Itchiness for example may be experienced as tightness, movement and warmth which relates to earth, air and fire element respectively. Pain may be experienced as hardness, tightness, sharpness, hot, cold, moving, vibrating, throbbing, trickling, heavy, etc. and the mind observing it with resistance can be experienced as hard, tight, heavy, hot, restless, sticky etc.
All four elemental qualities can be observed in each experience and also in the mind observing them. It is just that certain qualities will make themselves more known to us due to specific conditions within the mind. Due to these conditions some qualities may appear clearly to us while comparatively some may be more subtle. It just depends where our attention is focused.
Your Question: It would be really great if you named the 4 elements properly (earth, wind, air, fire) and draw on their insight elements. As there are these elements inside the body they are outside the body as well and they are all of the some nature. No difference, no one who owns them.
Stephen Procter: The Buddha used similar names to what you have used but with the addition of water element and the combining of wind and air as one. When referring to the four experiential elemental qualities he used: Earth, Fire, Water and Air. The different elements that I have referred to during this MIDL Mindfulness Training are the way that these four elemental qualities are experienced.
While the concepts 'earth, fire, water, wind' are convenient labels for sorting the elemental qualities within a talk or book, they are not the actual experience during meditation. The experience is the sensate quality that arises through the contact of our senses. We cannot experience any elemental qualities outside the range of our body though we can infer that they exist by thinking about them. All that we can know as meditators is our own experience as the world 'touches us and this experience is dependent on contact with our senses.
In other words we cannot know the world around us we can only know it as it contacts our senses and even the experience of this contact is not the experience of the world but the elemental qualities that arise due to the touch of this contact. This is the difference between book knowledge and actual experience, experience is limited by the range of the senses.
The purpose of breaking experience into its elemental qualities while meditating is to remove the ability of the mind to habitually identify with the present experience. Giving them group names and referring to anything outside of the purity of the present experience just encourages more mental verbalization and therefore hinders the development of investigation, mindfulness and concentration.
Your Question: I cannot feel hardness or softness WITHIN my body. I can feel the hardness of the floor against my knees or the softness of the blanket beneath my hands but I don't feel it within. What is meant by this?
Stephen Procter: While it appears that we can directly experience the blanket or the floor, when we observe directly during meditation we see that it is not possible to experience them other then as sensations that arise within our body as they touch it. The experience of hardness is not the floor; it is just sensations arising within your body due to touch. The experience of softness is not the blanket; it is also just sensations arising within your body due to touch. The idea of the blanket and floor is mind created, the image of them is a perceptional overlay created by your mind to interpret the world around you through this touch.
Your bodies function is to experience the world around you through touch, and touch arises within your body as different sensations, this is one way that you sense the world. Hardness and softness arise at any point where two things contact, the pressure of that contact changes the experience between hardness and softness as they are relative to the solidity of the surfaces. The only place that you can experience this touch is within the sense field of your body.
Observe points of touch within your body during meditation such as your buttocks on the floor or chair. Become aware of the sensations at these points of touch and observe how the imaginary experience of the chair or floor fade and the sensations of pressure, hardness or softness become all that there is.
Your Question: I have been listening for a week but I can't quite understand how I can lose the perceptual boarders. I can sense (say at the hands) the qualities at the meeting point. So that is how I know that there is separateness. I can also feel the air on my skin; is that the borderline of my body and the room?
Stephen Procter: Reply: We cannot make the experience of the borders of our body disappear, it is not something that we do, it is an experience that arises when we stop trying to do. It is our conceptualizing of what we are experiencing that creates the borders of perception.
You asked: "I can also feel the air on my skin; is that the borderline of my body and the room?”
Reply: We do not feel the air on our body; the idea of air touching our skin is a mind created concept. What we feel is sensations of warmth, coolness etc. that arise due to touch. Close your eyes gently now and become aware of just sitting in the room, the experience of it.
How can you actually know the room around you other then as a thought or memory? The floor touches you, but can you actually know the floor? Or can you only know pressure, hardness, softness, warmth, coolness etc.? These sensations are not a border for anything; they are just sensations, just as they are.
When you can be fully intimate with the actual experience, the elemental quality of touch, as it is, then the borders themselves will no longer exist.
Your Question: Is the aim of this practice to feel the sensate qualities of hardness, softness, pressure and temperature as they occur in the moment? If so, how does this benefit our spiritual practice?
Stephen Procter: We use these elemental qualities because they are the reality from which our mind creates the world that we live within. They are the world before mind creation.
The habitual mind created world is grounded within layers of perception and concepts, based on our relationship towards past experiences, which obscure our ability to know what is reality and what is the conceptual reality created within our mind. The Buddha referred to this as delusion, literally when we are in delusion we can not know it.
We can see this delusive quality quite clearly when during meditation we suddenly realise that we have been lost within thinking for a period of time and that we had completely forgotten what we were doing - that we were meditating. This coming back to reality is the re-establishing of mindfulness. The clarity of awareness through the re-establishing of mindfulness, compared to the clarity of awareness when we were lost within the mind created world of thinking is very clear. This highlights that delusion arises whenever mindfulness collapses.
Learning to clarify our perception of the elemental qualities of experience such as hardness, softness, pressure and warmth etc., starting with our body, creates a grounding point to reality in which to establish mindfulness and from which to observe when we have fallen into habitual patterns within our mind. Increased perception of these elemental qualities also breaks down and depersonalizes experiences such as our body, likes, dislikes, emotions, thoughts and judgement by directing perception towards the experience of their elemental qualities rather than the conceptual content.
Your Question: Elsewhere you indicated thinking and awareness are separate. So in this exercise, when we stop thinking, do we continue to focus our awareness on our hands or do we let everything go blank? Letting it all go blank seems to make it easier for thoughts to arise, and perhaps makes it easier to detect them.
Stephen Procter: We keep awareness of the touch of our hands in mind but in a very gentle way. Like holding onto a rock in a flowing river just by the tips of our fingers, trying to notice the moment our fingers let go. It is the gentleness of the grip on our meditation object that is important. If we become too firmly focused on the touch of our hands then the concentration developed will suppress the thinking process and no thoughts will arise.
It is necessary to relax the grip of our awareness and allow the mind to produce thought. This allows us to use the touch of the hands to observe thinking when it occurs. Creating the intention to not think and then relaxing that intention, allowing the mind to go blank, makes it easy to observe thinking as it arises.
Your Question: This week was challenging for me. I find it very difficult to observe my attention moving. It seems as if I am just thinking and evaluating but not really observing. How can I improve this?
Stephen Procter: The difficulty in observing our attention as it moves with clarity arises because one or all of these four factors of attention below, have not been developed to a strong enough level yet. When developed they give us the skill of releasing the mind from the control of fixed concentration, allowing habitual movement to arise and 'staying on the horses back' as it were.
The ability to "stay on the horses back" as it were is based on the cultivation of four things:
Exercise: Sit down without a guided meditation playing, hold your hands gently one in the other resting in your lap. Be aware of all the sensations within your body, also be aware of the touch of your hands. Put effort towards remembering to remember to be aware of the touch of your hands. Observe whenever your attention moves from the experience of that touch.
If judgement or commentary in the form of thinking and evaluating arise use a few softening breaths to relax them and re-establish awareness within your body and touch of your hands. This is the way to strengthen the foundation of your meditation practice, treat observing your attention move like a game - make it fun - it is a game you will only get better at - you can't lose.
Your Question: I believe this is an important meditation in the series but I am not grasping your point about being aware of the movement away from touch of hands (or body sense or contact with the floor). In the meditation, I am aware of my hands touching and then I am off somewhere in a memory. I have no awareness of a transition between the two. This is my 4th time doing it. I will keep trying but the inability to sense a transition is striking to me.
Stephen Procter: You said: " I am aware of my hands touching and then I am off somewhere in a memory. I have no awareness of a transition between the two."
Reply: This is wonderful, this is exactly what you are meant to see, you are given the 'touch' to create a reference point from which you can observe your attention habitually move and most importantly the collapsing of awareness of that transition of attention. Literally you are observing a collapse of mindfulness. When mindfulness is forgotten awareness fades, when awareness fades habit takes over and your mind will habitually absorb into thinking.
Keep placing effort into observing the transition point of your attention from one experience to another. At first you will have periods of unawareness of this movement; this is not important. It is the gentle effort to notice shifts in your attention and also the acknowledging of when you have been lost within habitual thinking that is important. This effort towards noticing that your attention has wandered is what cultivates mindfulness and momentary concentration.
In this way gradually your mindfulness of these habitual shifts of your attention will strengthen and the periods in which you wander off before being aware of it will shorten. With practice you will be able to observe the very arising of thinking itself without being lost within it. Keep up the investigation, treat it like a game. Once you have learnt this skill you can apply it to all the meditation training that you do.
Your Question: I found this meditation difficult because my mind is like a stream of images and associations and I only rarely come back to my body, which seems too uncompelling to hold my focus long. Is this possible?
Stephen Procter: You are observing your mind in its natural state without controlling it through concentration. In its natural state the mind is constantly producing images as it tries to interpret all the sensory input coming in through the five senses.
When mindfully observing this, we at first become lost within this flow out of habit. But by observing when we become lost within this flow, regardless of how long it was for, gradually mindfulness strengthens and the tendency to become lost becomes less.
Awareness can then be grounded within our body as a reference point and space around the natural functioning of the habitual mind increases, allowing us to observe these habitual interactions with the world.
To develop mindfulness of the mind in its natural state takes resilient gentleness and of coming back again and again as well as a level of curiosity into what is being experienced,.
Your Question: I'm having difficulty noticing the point when my attention shifts. I seem to notice I'm elsewhere but not when it happened. Also, I have been very aware of my heart beat and blood flow since the first exercise. That is a constant distraction for me. Any advice?
Stephen Procter: Not being able to notice when your attention shifts is normal. I have given you a meditation object so that you will forget it, your meditation object is your reference point so that you can learn to notice when your attention moves away from it. Keep your meditation object in mind but with the intention of noticing whenever your attention shifts away from it. The very effort of trying to notice these shifts in attention and the period of unawareness during that gap, is how mindfulness is cultivated.
Practice this regularly in a soft and gentle way and your mindfulness will strengthen and the period of time of unawareness will shorten. With training, your mindfulness will catch the movement of your attention so quickly that the gap of unawareness will not exist and your continuity of mindfulness will be continuous.
In answer to your second question, the beat of your heart and blood flow is not a distraction - there are no distractions within this practice - they are just more sensations within your body. The thought "my heart beating" "my blood flowing" - that is the distraction and it is this thought process about the experience of "throbbing" "movement" "tension" "warmth" etc. that creates the story about the experience and the obsession that comes with it.
During meditation we have to be careful not to identify with any stories that our mind creates around the experience. Within this story of your heart beating there is aversion: "I should not be experiencing this." "If only this would go away then I could meditate." This is the game that the mind plays during meditation. The general rule is whenever your attention draws towards an experience during meditation practice observe and soften your relationship towards it.
Your Question: Is there a difference between being aware of my hands and thinking about my hands? I don't think I know how to be aware of them without thinking about them. Similarly, once I'm aware of a thought, since I know I'm not supposed to think, that thought stops and is replaced with "I'm thinking" or "don't think". So the beginning and end of the thought collapse into each other. The whole thing leaves me feeling like I'm struggling and confused about what I'm supposed to be doing. It would be so much easier to simply watch my breathing, which is how I have meditated before.
Stephen Procter: You said: "It would be so much easier to simply watch my breathing, which is how I have meditated before."
Reply: Yes it is true that it would be much easier to simply watch your breathing, but what understanding would you develop from just watching your breath come in and out? You may develop enough concentration to suppress your thinking and feel peaceful while sitting in meditation, but you will not develop any understanding about the habitual patterns within your mind. To develop understanding of habitual patterns within your mind you need to structure your attention in a very specific way. This means not using your meditation object, such as breathing, to anchor your attention in one place but rather allowing your mind to wander and using your meditation object as a reference point from which to observe when your attention moves.
You said: "Is there a difference between being aware of my hands and thinking about my hands?"
Reply: Yes there is a difference, thinking about your hands is concerned with the shape and form of your body creating an imaginary border around them that gives rise to the feeling of separateness. When being purely aware of your hands touching the actual experience is made up of sensations such as warm or cool, soft or hard, wet or dry, etc. When just being aware of the touch of the hands there is no thought: "My hands are touching", but just awareness of the sensations of touch.
You said: "Similarly, once I'm aware of a thought, since I know I'm not supposed to think, that thought stops and is replaced with "I'm thinking" or "don't think". So the beginning and end of the thought collapse into each other."
Reply: It is not that you are not meant to think during this mindfulness training but rather that you are developing the ability to observe thinking itself. You have noticed some wonderful things during this meditation that teach you about the habitual processes of your mind. First you have clearly observed that you have no control over your thoughts; they come and go regardless of whether you want them to. You also clearly observed how your mind replaces one thought with another and likes to comment such as: "That thought stops and is replaced with "I'm thinking" or "don't think". This commenting is habit talking to you.
You said: "So the beginning and end of the thought collapse into each other. The whole thing leaves me feeling like I'm struggling and confused about what I'm supposed to be doing. "
Reply: This is the doorway to deep insight into the nature of reality, you are observing the impermanent and uncontrollable nature of thinking. The feeling of struggle and confusion is your habitual defense against anything that changes and is out of your control within your life. This is what mindfulness meditation is about, uncovering and observing these habitual defense patterns. When any struggle or confusion arise, make them your meditation object. Notice where you experience them within your body and use your MIDL Softening skill to soften / relax your relationship towards them. This creates the path.
There was a lot going on here, it was just missing the context of what you were doing during meditation. What we are observing is ordinary, very ordinary and that is what makes it so special. MIDL Mindfulness Training is designed to allow us to see this.
Your Question: I continue to struggle with the meditation of recognizing when thinking begins or ends.
Stephen Procter: Do not concern yourself if you cannot observe the beginning and ending of thinking. What you can observe is simply every time you become lost within thinking, observing these habitual patterns of your mind. You can also observe the uncontrollable nature of thinking and the collapse of your mindfulness when you become lost within it, this is where the insight is to be found.
The ability to observe when thinking begins will happen naturally when your mindfulness is strong enough and mental factors are in balance, it is not something that you can just do. If the factors are not in balance it does not matter how much effort you put in, it still won't happen. Your striving to observe thinking actually feeds it through creating energy, relax the striving. It is the continuity of mindfulness that is needed here not more effort to watch.
Whenever struggle arises within your mind observe the experience of the struggle itself. What does it feel like to struggle, to strive, to try? Use your MIDL Softening skill to soften / relax deeply into the desire to achieve.
Learn how to soften deeply, very deeply. The very act of striving to see creates agitation which collapses tranquility; the stillness of mind. I know this because this was my weakness from which my teacher had to guide me. Your task during these mindfulness training is to put in just enough effort to observe what you are experiencing now and your relationship towards it. Instead of putting emphasis on catching the beginning of each thought and not thinking, start by observing what this process is trying to teach you in terms of its uncontrollable and habitual nature.
You are following your meditation object and suddenly you notice that you are lost within thinking - don't you find that strange?
Why did your awareness of your main meditation object collapse and also your awareness that you were meditating disappear?
These are the points to take interest in. Also start to observe the impermanence of awareness and also how you have absolutely no control over the thinking process. It is not that you are thinking your thoughts but that your thoughts are thinking you - observe this. When you come out of a thought observe the quality of your awareness now that you are out of it, the clarity. Also reflect on the clarity of your awareness when you were lost within the thought. Investigating these is where you will get the juice.
Your Question: I was noticing like if my mind was starting to "move" to create a thought and in that moment something was sort of whispering to me "look! It's starting to create a thought!" And just after that my mind was wondering "isn't this a thought itself? so I just wonder now, when is it actually a thought or just the moment of awareness of what's going on?
Stephen Procter: Awareness of a thought, such as its beginning or ending, arises as a knowing. The verbalization about what is already known is a thought. Thoughts can arise as a sight, sound, smell, taste or sensation; one of the five senses and contains all the information needed within it. For example, you can look at a flower and know that it is a flower. You can also know if the flower is partly or fully open, tall or short. You can also know its colour and its type if you have seen it before. Knowing within itself contains no commentary - no thinking.
When you look at the flower and know it, then your mind may say, "Isn’t the flower beautiful" "I really like this flower, I wonder where I can buy one?" "I am going to pick this flower so I can bring it home and continue to enjoy it" "It is beautiful but it’s not as beautiful as the flowers in my garden". This over-layed commentary is thinking.
This is one of the minds tasks, to verbalize the experience of the world as it enters through the five senses and give it relevance in terms of "me". The verbalizing you experienced is your mind overlaying a commentary to try to make sense of what you are experiencing in meditation - to make it relevant to you. In your practice learn to separate the "knowing" from the "commentary".
Your Question: As this series progresses and I practice each session for a week or more. I am still finding it almost impossible to "catch" when thinking begins. I will recognize it once it is in progress but am usually into the thoughts before I realize they have started. I have ADHD and am struggling with whether this is due entirely to the disorder or if it can normally be a real challenge and something that can simply improve with the practice.
Stephen Procter: The important part when doing this MIDL training is not catching the beginning of the thought process but rather placing effort into noticing every time your attention moves. It is this noticing that cultivates mindfulness, whether you notice the arising of a thought or you notice it after you have been lost in it for 20 minutes is irrelevant - it is the noticing itself that is being cultivated.
Use the Softening skills trained in MIDL Mindfulness Trainings 3 -5/52 to relax / soften any struggle you experience. The thinking itself is not the problem; your struggling is. Your striving for something to be other then how it is. This is based on mental aversion; resistance. Also take interest in the movements of your attention towards thoughts, allow the thinking to teach you.
Here you are fully aware of your meditation object and then the next thing you know you have been lost in a thought - don't you find that strange? You were fully aware, you disappeared, then you were aware again - this is interesting. Observe this combined with investigating what it means to soften and your meditation practice will deepen.
21/52: Flickering Attention
22/52: Observing Thinking
23/52: Thinking Patterns
24/52: Past, Present, Future
25/52: Calming Activity
MENU QUESTIONS 26 - 30
Your Question: I think I’m obtaining a basic understanding of why we do this; i.e. we are trying to get to an understanding of where our thoughts start, but then after that is what I’m trying to grasp. Once we can see the flickers of our thought starting, how does this help us, especially since we are here to welcome all though and note it.
Stephen Procter: All MIDL Mindfulness Training are designed to help us clearly experience what the Buddha referred to as the Three Characteristics of Experience:
1. Impermanence: That all experience is impermanent, uncontrollable and unreliable.
2. Suffering: That suffering arises when we hang onto or identify with that which is impermanent, uncontrollable and unreliable.
3. Not-self:That that which is impermanent, uncontrollable and unreliable cannot be seen as or identified in terms of: "This is mine, I am this, this is myself" without suffering. That wisdom says that all experience should be viewed in terms of "this is not mind, I am not this, this is not myself" if suffering is to be brought to an end.
In summary, observing all experience in terms of the Three Characteristics leads to a natural disenchantment within the mind and non-attachment / letting go occurs. Our identification with the processes of the mind weakens and freedom from obsession and identification with them gradually develops.
Your Question: I'm quite comfortable with the larger shifts of my attention but I find that I have an almost continuous stream of micro attention shifts. Like a rapid, darting of the mind, to something and back. for example, a dog barks. My attention leaps out in that direction. I notice it and my attention goes back to the body breathing. I am not really sure what to do beyond simply observing it.
Stephen Procter: The important thing here is to clarify why you practice mindfulness meditation. It is not to stop you attention from moving but rather to develop understanding of the true nature of your mind and body. What you are experiencing during meditation is exactly what you are supposed to see. That most aspects of your mind, including your attention, are happening autonomously. Habitually out of your control. This is how it is.
When your attention rapidly flickers away from your meditation object, clarify how it is doing this by itself, without your help. That you mind is automatically jumping out to thoughts, to sounds etc. Keep observing this until it becomes clear that you are not your mind, that you mind like your body, is autonomous - doing its own thing.
Keep observing and clarifying this not-self characteristic of your mind, soften / relax any resistance towards this. This observation will allow you to start to see the habitual patterns of your mind when they are triggered throughout the day and how your attention 'flickers' towards them. Again it is the same process. During the day observe any habitual patterns that arise, observe any attraction or aversion you feel towards it, and soften / relax your participation in that pattern.
In this way their impersonal nature will become clear to you and the habitual pattern will weaken and fade within your mind. this is the benefit of observing attention in this way.
Your Question: What is the ideal goal of awareness? Do you want to be aware, all day long every minute? And why is my mind so easily lost in thoughts rather than easy in be aware?
Stephen Procter: You asked: "What is the ideal goal of awareness?"
Reply: Awareness has different levels of clarity, the purpose of the practice is to clarify awareness in order to observe and understand our relationship towards reality. This is done by continuously remembering to remember the awareness of an experience.
You asked: "Do you want to be aware, all day long every minute."
Reply: We are already continuously aware throughout the day, awareness happens naturally without our help. But we do not continuously remember that we are aware throughout the day, this is the purpose of mindfulness. Yes we want to develop continuous mindfulness throughout the day.
You asked: "Why is my mind so easily lost in thoughts rather than easily being aware?"
Reply: When you are lost within thoughts you are still aware, otherwise when you came out of that thought you would not know what it is that you were thinking about. When mindfulness collapses you literally forget awareness, your mind then fills this gap of 'not knowing' with habitual thinking. It is the weakness of your mindfulness that allows your mind to fall into habit.
Your Question: I find this difficult and am always lost in thoughts, is this part of meditation?
Stephen Procter: Yes, getting lost within thoughts is what the mind does, it is perfectly ok and natural. Your only task in MIDL is to be aware of being lost within the thought; it is the knowing that you have been lost within the thought that strengthens mindfulness which allows you to notice faster. Once mindfulness is strong you will be able to be aware of the flickering of your attention - before it becomes a thought. Cultivation of this takes patience as well as the desire to investigate and understand.
Your Question: I don't think I ever stop thinking. The quality of it just changes. My mind quiets but I remain aware of my being. At some point I then become aware of having been thinking about something specific. Is that what you are talking about? Sometimes I become aware of having wandered, non-linear thoughts, and more fleeting images. Is that the beginning of dream sleep/drifting thoughts?
Stephen Procter: Reply: Thinking is habitual, it can take a while to slow down such a big ship. Not everyone can create a 'gap' in the thought stream straight away, that is why I suggest training in the other 18 MIDL Mindfulness Training before this, daily for one week each. In this way Investigation, Mindfulness and Concentration will be strong enough to create the 'gap'.
You said: "At some point I become aware of having been thinking".
Reply: This points towards how your mindfulness meditation practice will develop. Start paying attention to the transitions between being aware of your meditation object and forgetting it - becoming "lost within thought". These 'gaps' occur when you have literally "forgotten you were meditating" - your mindfulness has become too weak.
When mindfulness collapses, whatever your habitual way of being is will take its place. In this case it is as you say: "thinking about something specific". Notice how you literally 'disappear' during this type of thought. Training in observing these 'gaps' of 'not knowing' is what mindfulness meditation is all about. With training your ability to notice these transitions in attention will increase; mindfulness and concentration will develop.
If on the other hand there are floating / drifting thoughts in the background and you can remain fully aware that they are there, then just observe them, allow them to be. In the same way that you may watch a child playing with a toy; not interfering but instead just making sure that the child stays safe.
Your Question: Eye opener. First time I got clarity on how I am thinking in terms of images and sounds. However, the thoughts seem to originate from different parts of my head. Is there a risk of imagining thoughts to originate from some place? How do we guard against that potential imagination?
Stephen Procter: In MIDL Mindfulness Training we have to trust our experience, it is all we can really know. Wherever you experienced the thoughts is correct, this place can shift from meditation to meditation. The experience of thinking has no location and can move around, the only danger is when we identify with a habitual thought process as 'my thoughts' and act through them - that is the real danger. One of the functions of mindfulness is to protect, when it is present the identification with this process ceases and thinking can be experienced without participation.
Your Question: I was surprised to notice that some of my thoughts I see before I hear them and others I only hear. I don’t seem to feel them though that may be because I’m not yet aware of the feeling.
Stephen Procter: Thinking can appear as any of our five senses but how they appear depends on what sense or senses your mind habitually uses. Everyone's thinking is different in this way and your mind may not use your body sense to bring form to your thoughts; just sight and sound.
When I do this exercises with my students and mention a tasty food, some of them initially taste it, some smell it and others see it. This is why we should never assume that everyone thinks the way that we do, because they don't. Even the way that each person’s mind interprets the world is different. It is very interesting to observe.
Your Question: Thanks Stephen, this is a great series. I am experiencing the thoughts as images and voices, and I am able to "see" or 'hear" them but not quite sure about feeling the thoughts, that is definitely a new concept. Is this just feeling the hands? Pressure? Pain?
Stephen Procter: For you to know a thought is present there must be something that tells you that it is - this something is the experience as the thought 'touches' you. All sense based experience contains a sensate quality. As the world touches your body, eyes, ears, nose, and tongue - this touch arises as sensation at these five doors - this sensation is what we experience when we are fully present. The mind door itself is no different, everything that arises within the mind has an associated sensate quality to it that can be felt / experienced - including the thought process itself.
This sensate quality can be observed within two areas: within the mind and also within the body as a reflection of the mind. These two always go hand in hand. If you were thinking angry thoughts for example, you may feel tight, tense, hard, hot, with an energetic upwards moving feeling within your body. If you observe your mind it will also be tight, tense, hard, hot, with an energetic feeling of moving out towards that which you are angry towards. The mind will also have a quality of stickiness, that the body does not have, as it refuses to let go of this defensive thinking pattern.
Your Question: With this meditation you ask the question where do I experience thinking? I thought about this and was unable to come up with an answer as that thinking was a reflection of my unconsciousness becoming conscious of it and thus it was always there? Then again, maybe I’m over thinking this! Thoughts?
Stephen Procter: Yes, you are trying to think your way through this, there is nothing to be understood only experienced and the experience itself also does not need to be understood. Thinking itself does not have any shape, form or location so it borrows and arises as one of the five senses. Thinking arises as a sight, a sound, a smell, a taste, a feeling within the body.
When asked "where do you experience thinking" it is literally just asking where it appears to you at this time, it can be different every time you check in or the same. My students report experiencing the location of thinking in many places within the confines of their body and also in many places external to it.
Thinking has no form or shape, to communicate the mind stimulates and uses the five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch sensation to manifest the physicality of thoughts. Not everyone experiences thinking in the same way though it is always through a combination of 1 or more of these five senses. We see, hear, smell, taste and feel as sensations within our body our thoughts / memories.
Through observation we can observe the experience of thinking arising within any of these sense doors and also it is common to experience thinking outside of our physical body - thinking has no specific location. Of course if we approach this intellectually and not experientially then the conceptual mind will provide a location and will make thinking appear to be where we think it is - usually in the middle of the head, where we 'think' it should be.
A combination of refining the three mental factors and learning to deeply relax all engagement will make the process of thinking easier to experience. These are training's in just checking in on the pure experience, free from preconceived ideas and concepts of how something should be.
Your Question: I'm still working on distinguishing between thinking and awareness. Is one hallmark of thinking the use of language? If I'm truly focused on touch or heaviness, I don't seem to need any mental words.
Awareness is the knowing quality of any experience. For example your experience the physical touch of your body, and the mental, knowing, of that touch.
Mindfulness is the awareness of that awareness. The effort of mindfulness is to remember to remember "I am aware of this ..... (experience)"
Awareness and mindfulness contain no thought, they are just a purity of knowing. Thinking comes after you are aware of something, it is part of the function of perception and conceptualization. "I know what this is, this is a ...."
For example, you see a shape with your eyes. Its a cup. The seeing of a shape is awareness, the recognition that it is a cup is perception. "This is my cup and it is empty". This is concept and a layer of thought that the mind applies over the initial perception.
"My cup is empty, it is time for another coffee. I have run out of coffee, I bet Stephen drank it. Why didn't he replace it! As usual I need to go to the store and buy some myself. While I am there I will....." This proliferation is what we regard as thinking about something in regards to past or future.
Experience of thinking:
Thinking itself has no shape or form. The mind stimulates one or a combination of our five senses as a way of communicating with us. A thought can be a sight, sound, smell, taste or body sensation.
Your Question: Sometimes when I observe thinking, I don't remember what I was the thinking about. What should I do?
Stephen Procter: Nothing.
Just know that you don't remember what you were thinking about.
Your Question: I didn't understand what was meant by feeling the thought in the body, could you explain?
Stephen Procter: The experience of pleasantness or unpleasantness and the sensate quality of emotions can all be observed within the field of your body as reflections of your state of mind. During this training your task is to develop sensitivity to the reflection of your mind within your body and its relationship to the quality of the thinking pattern present.
This is done by bringing awareness to this sensate quality as it arises and 'rubbing' awareness on the experience as if you are 'feeling' it through touch. This will allow you to observe your relationship towards these thinking patterns and to soften into that relationship in order to decondition habitual defensive responses within your mind.
Your Question: Great meditation. I have a question. While I can often clearly perceive emotionally derived thoughts in the body, I can’t seem to feel more “neutral” thoughts (such as ones labelled “planning”), as embodied. Just wondering how best to work with these type of thoughts in this exercise?
Stephen Procter: When you can not feel the physical relationship towards certain thoughts within your bodily sensations it is enough to know that you do not feel them. This in itself is interesting and a place of investigation as to why you can experience the emotional charge that arises from some thoughts but not others, such as when planning.
The neutral feeling that you are experiencing in regards to these thoughts sits within delusion and the very nature of delusion is not knowing the present experience. As mindfulness and concentration strengthen, what is covered by delusion will clarify and the emotional relationship driving these thinking patterns will reveal themselves.
For planning to be within the mind it is being fed by something. The first thing to observe is any accompanied feeling of the plan being really important. "I really have to finish this thought". This feeling of importance may be driven by aversion towards the future and have a background of fear. It can also be driven by desire for the future and have a background of longing. The emotional charge, the fuel for these thoughts, will always be there, but the clarity to observe them will not always be. Cultivation of the continuity of mindfulness clarify's awareness and brings these relationships into the light of awareness.
Your Question: I don't understand how labeling thought that arises as "planning " or "remembering " or "fantasy " serves to identify the underlying emotion. Certainly fearing or longing name underlying emotions. But I found "planning", for example, had underneath sometimes anxiety, sometimes shame, sometimes excitement.
Stephen Procter: Most thinking is habitual. One of the functions of the mind is to verbalize past experience as a way of making sense of what we are experiencing ‘now’. When thinking arises, because of habitual identification, the mind turns towards and becomes absorbed within the content – what we are thinking about. During this absorption mindfulness collapses and all awareness of what is being experienced ‘now’ ceases – the content of the thought becomes the present reality.
Initially when working with the arising of thinking during MIDL mindfulness meditation we use a label such as “thinking” to identify and clarify this process in order to strengthen our mindfulness and break the grip of habitual identification with the thinking process. The next stage is to use labels to identify what is driving the habitual thinking process or what I call obsessive thinking.
Obsessive thinking is always concerned with one topic and chews it over again and again. It is driven by an emotional relationship to the content of the thought. Using labels such as “planning”, “remembering” “fantasizing” withdraws awareness from the thinking pattern. This re-establishes mindfulness, clarifying our perception of the experience and bringing our relationship to the content of the thoughts into the field of awareness.
These labels themselves bring more accuracy and clarity to the actual experience. Using a general label such as “thinking” for example, is like walking into a room at a party and saying that you see “people”. Using a label like “planning” for example, is like walking into a room at a party and saying that you see “Stephen”. The labels "Stephen" and "planning" separate certain aspects of the experience because of their accuracy thereby focusing attention on that one aspect and clarifying it.
The important part is to identify what is driving the particular thinking pattern present and then observe where it arises as a reflection of the mind within our body. This then allows us to break the experience into its sensate quality: ‘hard, tense, tight, hot, damp, heavy etc and to then soften into our relationship towards it. When our relationship towards the emotional charge dissolves it removes the fuel and the habitual thinking process collapses.
Your Question: Is there elemental quality within past and future?
Stephen Procter: Past and future do not have an elemental quality because they exist only within conceptual thought. The elemental quality is found only within experiences that arise within the six senses. Our relationship towards past and future however, does have an elemental quality that arises both in the mind and in the body. It is our relationship towards past and future that should be observed in this case.
Your Question: The emotional charge of the past and the present made this meditation very challenging for me.
Stephen Procter: On one level this mindfulness meditation worked as you observed how your relationship towards memories of the past altered your relationship towards your present experience. Yet the difficulty you had being with the feeling produced by your mind due to memories of your past, is a sign that your mindfulness and skill in softening need to be further developed.
Have you been doing these MIDL Mindfulness Training in order over the last 22 weeks?
I recommend developing your skill in softening / relaxing your relationship towards what you are experiencing and increasing the continuity of your mindfulness, before doing this meditation again. In particular retraining any habitual stress breathing patterns that my be present. It is the change of breathing from diaphragmatic in the belly to short and shallow in our chest that brings about the anxiousness that you experienced when bringing the past to mind.
Practice daily MIDL Mindfulness Training 3/52: Retraining Autonomous Breathing for three weeks and then refine your skill in flexible attention and softness by beginning at MIDL Mindfulness Training 1/52: Grounding Your Attention, gradually progressing to MIDL Mindfulness Training 22/52. In this way you will have the tools necessary to heal your past and this meditation of observing the past and future will be much easier.
Your Question: Does anyone meditate with no wandering mind whatsoever? Ever? Perhaps only extremely skilled meditators with many years can? Is it possible to sit with no thinking? Are there different meditation practices to stop thinking. I can't see how I can stop thinking during this meditation.
Stephen Procter: As long as the 5 physical sense doors are open and the habitual functions of your mind are not suppressed, than there will be always be habitual wandering of your mind as it moves between your senses. This wandering at times can appear as being very messy, a sliding of awareness, or when momentary concentration is stronger it can appear like a laser beam striking each sense.
This being said it is possible to experience the mind without any movement through the development of one-pointed concentration in order to close down the five physical senses and to suppress the minds grosser habitual functions.
This is experienced in the development of Jhanas: Mental absorptions. Ajahn Brahmavamso in 'The Basic Methid of Meditation and the Jhanas' lists the characteristic of Jhana as:
"Summary of Landmarks of all Jhanas
So as you can see it is possible to experience mind free from movement through the development of one-pointed concentration. This path of seclusion through suppression is the path of Tranquility. It is based on the perception of permanence and can not develop if attention is allowed to wander. In this case you would want to settle / calm as you say, the monkey mind.
If on the other hand you are practicing mindfulness meditation, you are not seeking to shut down your five senses but rather to develop increased awareness of them in order to cultivate wisdom in regards to their nature. In the case of mindfulness meditation therefore there will always be wandering of the mind as awareness moves between all six senses, doing what it is supposed to do, interpret them.
That being said there is stillness that can be experienced within the habitual movement within the mind, through the development of mindfulness meditation. When we begin our training we first become lost within the habitual movements of our attention and what they absorb into, such as thinking. This is a normal experience when practicing mindfulness meditation.
As our meditation develops and the continuity of periods of mindfulness increases than we can observe these habitual movements of attention without becoming lost or absorbed within their content. We can literally observe our attention move without moving with the attention. This happens when we learn the skill of being aware of being aware through remembering to remember. This mindful observing is still and tranquil, even though the mind interacting with the six sense doors may not be.
To sum this up if you are meditating for tranquility than your attention moving and becoming lost within thinking is a problem because it collapses one-pointed concentration and removes the perception of permanence.
If however you are meditating for Insight into the nature of reality than your attention moving and becoming lost within thinking is not a problem because it clarifies the characteristics of the impermanent and the impersonal nature of the habitual mind.
This is an important point, when practicing mindfulness meditation your task 'is not' to quieten your monkey mind. Your task is to observe it doing whatever it is doing without becoming lost within it to develop understanding of its true nature. And if you become lost within the habitual functions of your mind during mindfulness meditation then this is also not a problem. Your mindfulness coming and going is just highlighting the impersonal nature of the habitual mind and the impersonal nature and impermanence of the watching itself.
Your Question: Softening into non mental activity is an interesting concept. As I am learning I’m trying to understand what the idea of softening here means. Does it mean to ignore or to dull the thought processes or does it mean something different to everyone?
Stephen Procter: Softening in this case means to observe and relax any participation in the thought process. We neither ignore or dull the thought process, we allow the fire to burn, through softening into participation we no longer add fuel to the fire and in turn the fire burns itself out.
Your Question: I can't get rid of the witness in my head telling me that I'm not thinking, but I've always had this going on. Still great though, thanks for doing these.
Stephen Procter: You do not need to get rid of the witness in your head, it is just a defensive mechanism within your mind doing its job - narrating about the world to protect you. Actually it is your interest in this commentary and identification with it that keeps it going. Allow it to run, learn to relax your relationship to it, take not interest in what it says. Observe how this commentator comes and goes, of its own accord, observe its impermanent and impersonal nature. Observe how you have no control over this witness, that it is not you, it is just another experience that arises and ceases when the conditions are right.
Your Question: I found this difficult to do, how can I improve my meditation?
Stephen Procter: The skill of Calming Mental Activity used here is based on developing two of the three MIDL Pillars: Flexible Attention and Softening Into (The result being the Third of Allowing Stillness).
Flexible Attention is developed by grounding awareness within your meditation object and relaxing your mental grip, allowing your attention to move; allowing the mind to wander. The actual training is to observe your mind wandering, creating, judging, thinking etc without getting lost within it. Staying on the horses back as it were. This skill develops the ability to observe subtitles of movement within the mind and its interaction with the six senses.
Softening Into is the skill of deeply relaxing mental engagement with all experience that arises through the six senses. For the skill of calming mental activity to develop this Softening Into skill needs to be refined and matured. If these two skills have not been developed and refined enough then the skill of calming mental activity will be very difficult.
Through focusing on the developing the two skills of Flexible Attention and Softening Into you will create a firm foundation, allowing you to calm the activity of your mind. The tools for refining these skills are found within the previous training. I recommend returning to MIDL Mindfulness Training 1/52 with the intention to train the Flexible Attention skill, and MIDL Mindfulness Training 3 - 5/52 to develop your skill in Softening Into experience.
MINDFULNESS TRAINING 26
26/52: Expanding Awareness
27/52: Using Touch Points
28/52: Abandon Intention
29/52: Re-engage Diaphragm
MINDFULNESS TRAINING 30
30/52: Lengthen Out-breath
Your Question: I couldn't expand my awareness. Maybe my ego is very strong. What do you think?
Stephen Procter: The ego has nothing to do with your ability to expand awareness other then the doubt it produces in your mind. It is the ego that says: "Maybe my ego is very strong, that is why I can't expand 'my' awareness". The ability to expand awareness is very ordinary and something that we do naturally during the day. If you find a weakness in it then it means that there is something that needs to be trained. A skill that you can developed.
Lets try a simple exercise:
Hold your hand up in front of your face, at arms length and look at your hand. Focus in on the details of your hand. This is focusing awareness to one point with your eyes. Now change the focus of your eyes so that you not only see your hand but also see everything in your peripheral vision around it. Notice that you can see your hand and the room around you at the same time. This is what it feels like to expand awareness. During meditation we can be aware of the movement of our breath and also at the same time be aware of our body and sounds far away. Awareness is like this.
Another example is when your are feeling restless and cooped up in your house, so you go for a walk outside. To help yourself settle down you look at the trees around you, hear the birds, widen your awareness to be aware of the world around you. this widening of awareness naturally disperses your minds energy and settles your restless mind.
Focus of Awareness and Habit:
The inability to change the focus of your awareness during meditation is based on a habit that you have developed in regards to your attention. If you have developed a habit of focusing in on things within your life, then being aware of many things at once during meditation may be difficult.
And visa versa.
Awareness itself has a range of focus, like a beam of light on a torch. The light can be focused and shine to one point or the beam can be widened lighting up the whole room. Awareness also has this range of focus. Some meditators have naturally narrow awareness so have to develop the ability to widen their focus. Other meditators naturally have a wide focus of awareness and have to develop the ability to focus on one thing.
MIDL Mindfulness Training 2/52: Focusing Your Awareness develops this skill.
Your Question: I experience sleepiness and become mentally dull when I am meditating, what can I do?
Stephen Procter: Lets first identify the sleepiness. Are you feeling tired when you are not meditating? If you are feeling tired when not meditating then the sleepiness will be coming from living an over-stimulated life and you need to get more rest. Even if that rest is falling asleep during meditation, if that is the only rest time you get then that is what you need to do. Just fully commit to it, do not fight it.
If however your sleepiness and mental dullness is only happening when you are meditating then this is not due to tiredness but rather from over-calming of the knowing factor of awareness. Meditation is a balance between over-calming the knowing factor of awareness and overstimulating it taking us from mental sluggishness to restlessness. Until you develop the skill in energy balance during meditation both of these will be regular visitors.
Overcoming Meditation Sleepiness
1. Increased Mindfulness
To train continuity of mindfulness to lower meditation sleepiness (mental sluggishness), sit down in meditation and hold one hand in the other. Put effort into 'remembering to remember' the touch of your hands for 1 minute. The emphasis is on 'remembering to remember' not on the touch of the hands. Notice every time you forget the touch of your hands, come back and re-establish the effort to 'remember to remember'. Be aware of any restlessness arising as this is a sign you are putting in too much effort.
Each time you do this exercise gradually increase the time. When 'remembering to remember' the touch of your hands becomes easier for you, move on to remembering your whole body as it sits and then your breath as it naturally draws in and out.
2. Using Touch Points
Whenever you feel meditation sleepiness (mental sluggishness) coming on during mindfulness meditation you can cycle through some points of touch as in MIDL Mindfulness Training 26/52. To do this bring awareness first to your whole body as it sits in meditation and silently say “sitting, sitting” while mentally 'feeling' your whole body. Then bring your awareness to a point of touch, such as your buttocks on the floor and silently say “touching, touching” while mentally 'feeling' that point of touch. Cycle gently between these two points of touch: "sitting, sitting" (feel the body), "touching, touching" (feel your buttocks touch).
If you want to create more energy or interest you can add points of touch to this cycle. Example: "sitting, sitting" (whole body), "touching, touching" (left buttock), "touching, touching" (right buttock), "touching, touching" (left ankle), "touching, touching" (right ankle), "touching, touching" (hands), "touching, touching" (lips), "sitting, sitting" (whole body) and so on cycling through.
In this way you will generate alertness and the sleepiness will start to fade. Once faded you can then go back to your original meditation object or continue with your touch point meditation practice depending on the outcome you are after.
Your Question: I am moving between different parts of my body touching but am not developing any concentration. What am I doing wrong?
Stephen Procter: In this meditation slowly cycle your awareness through different points of touch within your body, being aware of one point at a time. The important part is to take your time being aware of the experience of each point of touch and mentally 'feeling' the sensate quality within it. This may be pressure, hardness, softness, warmth etc.
As you experience the sensate quality within a touch point, silently say "touching, touching" to direct your attention to it. The first label brings your awareness to the point of touch, the second label brings your awareness to the experience of the point of touch. In this way you apply your attention and sustain it by rubbing awareness within the experience before moving onto the next touch point. This cultivates the momentum of mindfulness and develops momentary concentration.
Your Question: Moving among the touch points did help with alertness. I experience a lot of "sloth and torpor", not unhappiness more boredom during meditation.
Stephen Procter: Sloth & torpor is a mental sinking that occurs when the effort to clearly experience the object of meditation is too low to provide enough energy to sustain the concentration, leading to an over-calming of the knowing factor of awareness. The precision and effort used with touch points counters this imbalance and is a good practice for you to use when needed.
Boredom can be a causal factor for sloth & torpor as boredom is a combination of lack of attention and delusion - inability to see clearly. The opposite to boredom is investigation & mindfulness towards what is being experienced now, when these are applied boredom is not possible. Your effort should be directed towards clearly 'remembering to remember the experience of the object of meditation' and investigating the tendency of the mind to withdraw into boredom through a lapse of mindfulness or 'to sink' through the over-calming of the knowing factor of awareness.
In this way these changing states of mind will not be a hindrance to your mindfulness meditation practice but rather they will be the content that will allow your practice to deepen.
Your Question: Could you explain a little about the purpose of lifting and dropping body parts in this meditation?
Lifting / dropping is the method of retraining the mind through creating the desire to move a part of the body and then cancelling that desire. Not only does this training method bring about deeper relaxation within our body but it also develops the deep relaxation within the mind that arises from the abandoning of the desire itself.
This practice is particularly good for working with chronic pain and trauma when the stress response is over-vigilant and oversensitive making the person defensive towards any attempt to help them. Lifting / dropping directly challenges the habituated stress response and deconditions this reaction through the retraining of intention, allowing the mind to experience safety. Once the meditator learns how to abandon the desire to react fear subsides and stillness is experienced having a deep impact on a mind that is habitually in fight / flight.
On the deeper level it allows us to observe the resistance that arises in the body and mind when any intention / desire arises and also the ability to observe the peace that arises in the body and mind when that desire is abandoned. The practice of creating the desire to move and then dropping it also trains the ability to 'not do', 'not react' throughout the day. The deeper level of this training is the dropping / softening of any "desire to do". The creating of the 'desire to move' and then the cancelling of it gives rise to deeper understanding of intention and also the ability to abandon it at will in daily life.
It also allows us to experience not only the peace that arises in the body when the "desire to do" is abandoned but also the deeper peace and softness that arises within the mind when the desire is dropped.
Your Question: I have a hard time understanding and practicing this exercise, in particular the idea of lifting and dropping my body. Can you help me understand?
The first MIDL softening door of 'lifting, dropping' uses the engaging and abandoning of movement within the physical body to develop the skill of abandoning the mental intention 'to do' within the mind. While it can seem very complex in nature it is actually quite simple when understood. I will try to help you understand.
The deep relaxation that comes from this exercises arises from creating the desire to move and then abandoning that desire. 'Lifting' stands for the desire to move and 'dropping' stands for the abandoning of that desire.
There are three stages to moving our arm:
1) The desire to move the arm.
2) The tensing of the muscles as they get ready to move.
3) The lifting of the arm.
Try this now to experience these three stages.
Sitting comfortably, arms resting loosely on your legs. Create the desire to move your right arm and feel the muscles tense. Continue the desire to move until your arm lifts off your leg. Now abandoning that desire allow your arm to drop on your leg, relaxed. Notice that there is a heavier feeling in your arm after it has dropped. Repeat it again and experience the relaxation within the arm after it drops.
Now lets try this without the 3rd stage of lifting the arm.
During this meditation we abandon the desire just before the lift:
1) We create the desire to move the arm (lift).
2) We feel the tensing of the muscles as they get ready to move.
3) We abandon (drop) the desire to move before it lifts and feel the physical and mental relaxation. A sinking feeling.
Try this now to experience these three stages.
Sitting comfortably, arms resting loosely on your legs. Create the desire to move your right arm and feel the muscles tense. Now abandoning that desire to move before it lifts off your leg, feel the muscles in your arm relax. Notice that there is a heavier feeling in your arm after it has dropped. A sinking feeling.
Repeat it again without the lift and experience the relaxation within the arm after it drops becoming deeper. Notice that there is also a mental 'drop', relaxation that comes from abandoning the desire to move. In this same way we can move through our body 'lifting' and 'dropping' each part. This releases any habitual tension both in the body and in the mind leading to deep tranquility. I have found this softening doorway extremely useful especially in the case of chronic fear.
Your Question: I experienced how much holding up / on was already there with each instruction. Panic surfaced again when the instruction came to lift the chest - my diaphragm was locked tight. The panic seems it come out of nowhere when I focus on the breath. It had subsided for a long time but here it is again. Is there a reason why the unconscious resistance to freeing up such a fundamental thing as breathing should be so great and so entrenched?
Stephen Procter: Locking of the diaphragm and tightening of the chest / breathing is part of the defense mechanism of the survival part of your mind. MIDL Softening methods such as Lifting / Dropping are designed to remove these defense mechanisms. As the survival minds defenses are lowered it feels naked and exposed and quickly produces more defenses.
This is part of the deconditioning process, patiently working with the lowering and raising of these defenses. This is most efficient if paired with retraining your stress breathing patterns by practicing MIDL Mindfulness Training 1/52: Retraining Breathing Patterns daily for 3 - 4 weeks. in this way you can remove your experience of anxiety and this reaction will not happen when you turn your awareness towards breathing.
Your Question: Right now my relationship to my neuropathy pain is of aversion. I will work on the relationship part of it as you suggested. Perhaps instead of aversion I should "allow it to be". Release my desire to control it using gentle breaths. Is that what you mean by softening my relationship to it? It's really a change in my attitude towards my pain?
Stephen Procter: Your experience of your neuropathy pain is made up of two parts:
1. The physical, sensate quality of the pain within your body.
2. The mental relationship towards the physical, sensate quality of the pain within your body. In this case aversion: "I don't want".
You can not get rid of the physical pain because it is present dependent on conditions beyond the realm of your control. Since this is the case the one thing that you can do is change your relationship towards the pain. Dissolve the "I don't want" by softening / relaxing into it. This is the path of MIDL mindfulness meditation.
The protection mechanism within your mind of "I don't want" is part of your minds immune system attacking the perceived threat. This immune system when turned on by the survival part of your mind will constantly bring your awareness to the perceived danger and release an unpleasant feeling to make you want to fight or run. This constantly re-applying of awareness to the physical pain will develop concentration which then magnifies your experience of the sensations within the pain as well as magnifying the unpleasant feeling present.
As a MIDL meditator your task is not to try to remove the pain but rather to teach the survival part of your mind that right now is safe. The first doorway for this is to retrain diaphragmatic breathing (MIDL Mindfulness Training 3/52) and to develop sensitivity to any stress breathing patterns throughout your day as they are a sign that your mental immune system is turned on. (Breathing appears in your upper chest rather then deep in your belly). Learning how to re-engage diaphragmatic breathing throughout the day, turns off the stress response thereby lowering the magnification of the mental aversion within the survival part of your mind.
The next doorway is to learn to observe and soften your relationship towards the physical pain within your body, relaxing the "I don't want". Supportive meditations such as MIDL Mindfulness Training 34/52: Abandoning Intention and MIDL Mindfulness Training 36/52: Lengthening the Out-breath, will teach you how to bring about relaxation in your body when experiencing the pain and also how to abandon the aversion towards it.
Your Question: Could you explain how I meant to do these diaphragm breaths during this meditation?
Stephen Procter: How to Re-Engage the Diaphragm:
When Your Stress Response Turns On:
When you bring to mind a difficult memory during this meditation or are resisting something within your daily life you can use this second softening door to re-engage the diaphragm and interfere with the cycle of the stress response by asking one simple question:
“Where am I breathing now, is it in my chest or in my belly?”
If your breathing has moved up into your chest then the stress response has been switched on, you may be resisting something in your meditation or life. This is ok, it is habitual and happens automatically. You can turn off this stress reaction by intentionally re-engaging your diaphragm in your belly. To re-engage natural, diaphragm breathing during the day, you simply place your palms just below your belly button, lightly pressing your finger tips inward. then by taking five, slow, gentle breaths in your lower belly, below your belly button, your diaphragm will re-engage in respiration.
After these three breaths you may feel a little light headed, this is normal when we re-engage the diaphragm, just allow the depleted C02 levels 10 seconds to re-balance and you will feel mental clarity and calmness return to you.
To completely remove the experience of stress & anxiety within your life, this is the game that you need to play. Throughout the day at first stress breathing patterns will come back again, you are dealing with habit. By noticing when you start stress breathing and bringing your breath from your chest by re-engaging your diaphragm you will start to decondition the habit of feeling stressed during the day. When this is supported by the breathing retraining meditation above, the experience of anxiety will gradually come to an end.
Your Question: How do I re-apply diaphragm breathing in daily life, do I take deep breaths throughout the day?
Stephen Procter: Now that we have started becoming more intimate with our breathing patterns it is time to increase this new found sensitivity in daily life.
Check your breathing throughout the day.
"Is my breathing in my belly or my chest?"
"Am I holding my breath?"
Look at the relationship between resistance towards what is and your breathing pattern.
Place your finger tips below your belly button and gently bring the breath into your belly, switching the diaphragm back on, with five slow, lower belly breaths. Notice any changes in your body and state of mind.
Your Question: I'm having problems with calming my mind in this practice, and I suspect that I'm not sighing correctly. In particular, should the sighing produce sound? Currently my sighing introduces vibrations which make this experience rather unpleasant. Is the tire valve image presented only as a metaphor, or should I actually attempt to generate such a sound?
This Softening skill has its foundation within autonomous diaphragmatic breathing: MIDL Meditation Skills 1 - 3/52. If chest stress breathing is natural to you then higher level Softening skills will be more difficult to do. For this answer I will assume that your breathing comes from your diaphragm.
Your question: "In particular, should the sighing produce sound?"
My answer: There is no sound made with the gentle sign out through the nose. This out-breath is not created through effort and comes from the movement of the diaphragm as it returns on the out-breath. The only thing we do is focus on the area of the nose and slightly slow down the return of the diaphragm to extend the length of the out-breath. This has a calming effect on the mind and relaxes all mental activity, the actual experience is a relaxing of the frontal lobes of the brain.
Your question: "Currently my sighing introduces vibrations which make this experience rather unpleasant."
My answer: This may be a sign of too much effort. This is a Softening skill, Softening always heads towards less effort, less participation, less doing.
Your question: "Is the tire valve image presented only as a metaphor, or should I actually attempt to generate such a sound?"
My answer: Yes letting air out of the valve of a tire is just a metaphor for slowly releasing the air. This is not a yogic practice, no effort should be made towards producing sound. What we are training here is natural breathing, we are retraining our breathing rate, once retrained the softening happens naturally. When I teach I no longer use metaphors such as this or use the word 'sigh' because of the possibility of a misunderstanding towards effort. The experience is of a slow, gentle releasing of the air through the nose as mentioned above.
Your Question: I don't seem to get similar calming effect from the sighed exhale as I get from the diaphragm inhale. I'll use it the next time I'm stressed and see what happens.
Stephen Procter: The calming effect that comes from this softening techniques require slowness of the exhaled breath, accuracy of attention towards the centre of the eyebrows and an intentional abandoning of all mental effort in line with the breath.
Your Question: I do get confused on the dropping because in the session associated with the first door, the dropping of the body was a sudden movement. The releasing of the breath is to be slow and gentle. I find myself thinking in two step in this process with a drop and then a sign that is slow and elongated. Which feels conflicting. I also find as I am not used to diaphragm breathing, focusing on this almost makes me physically tired after a prolonged period. Over- doing perhaps.
Stephen Procter: It sounds like over effort and not quite understanding the Softening skill. The first Softening door: Lifting / Dropping is not just physical, it is also mental. The cancelling of the desire to move a part of your body not only results in a deep physical relaxation but also a mental one - a mental 'drop' that arises when the desire 'to do' itself is cancelled.
The 'dropping' that is mentioned in the other Softening doors is a mental / physical 'drop', an abandoning of all mental and physical effort. This is done in alignment with the out-breath (deflation of the body) and is similar to sliding down a slide or pushing a swing. This means that the drop is slow and gentle as it 'rides' on the deflation of the out-breath.
The order of the Softening breath is 'breathing-in: in the belly - chest - lifting you up - out-breath - slowly through the nose - mentally / physically relaxing deeply. Understanding diaphragm breathing, strengthening the slowness of its movement and sensitivity to your breathing throughout the day is a foundation skill in MIDL. I recommend spending more time on MIDL Meditation Skill 1/52 to develop understanding of this.
Your Question: I am not able to sigh SILENTLY through my NOSE. It is just not possible for me. Is it ok to sigh through the mouth? I think the "valve" - sound in the explanation at the end is also done through the mouth. I know that breathing out slowly through the mouth is extremely relaxing but maybe it is not good in this case.
The ability to let out a slow, gentle sigh through the nose is based on earlier training done in MIDL Mindfulness Training 3 - 5/52. These mindfulness training are concerned with strengthening the diaphragm and in learning to move it very slowly and gentle way to develop the MIDL Softening skill. The more slowly the diaphragm is moving the more gentle and refined the in and out breath are.
For most adults the diaphragm muscle is disengaged during normal breathing due to anxiety, this locking of the diaphragm under the ribs causes chest breathing to occur and also a weakening of the diaphragm itself. (this then creates anxiety symptoms). This then makes it difficult to take a slow, deep, relaxing breath and to use the full capacity of our lungs.
The sighing in the nose comes from the back pressure caused by controlling the slow movement of the diaphragm which then creates an exaggerated out-breath through the nose. If the diaphragm muscle has not been trained than this can be difficult. The in and out-breath are taken only through the nose for many reasons, from a health point of view the noses task is to condition the air as it goes into the lungs by filtering, warming and moistening it. Breathing through the mouth also leads to dehydration in the mouth, throat and lungs and drying of the teeth.
The small holes in the nose also create a back pressure which has a unique relationship to the movement of the diaphragm and the ability to take a slow, deep breath. This back pressure is needed to create a slow deflation in the chest to allow Softening Into to occur. With specific training the diaphragm unlocks and breathing with the diaphragm becomes natural breathing once again.